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MIDDLE EAST SECURITY REPORT 9

Elizabeth OBagy
March 2013
The free Syrian army
Cover Photo: The Bab al-Salameh border crossing under Syrian rebel control. Taken on January 31,
2013 by Elizabeth OBagy.
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2013 by the institute for the Study of War.
Published in 2013 in the United States of america by the institute for the
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MIDDLE EAST SECURITY REPORT 9
Elizabeth OBagy
The free Syrian army
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
elizabeth OBagy is a Senior research analyst at the institute for the Study of War, where she focuses on Syrian
politics and security. She is in a joint masters/PhD program in arab Studies and Political Science at Georgetown
University and is working on a dissertation on womens militancy. Prior to joining iSW, she received the
Critical Language Scholarship to study arabic at the american School in Tangier, morocco, and studied arabic
and political science at the american University in Cairo, egypt. She holds a bachelors degree in the arabic
Language and arab Studies from Georgetown University.
She is the author of Syrias Political Opposition and Jihad in Syria.
AcknOwlEdgEmEnTs
i would like to thank Jonathan Dupree for his many contributions to this report, including the invaluable
research support he provided on the operations section and appendix 2. Thanks are also due to Joseph holliday
for helping see me through the entire process, as well as Jessica Lewis and aaron reese for their insightful review
and editing of the text. finally, maggie rackl deserves a huge round of applause for helping to format the entire
report.
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TaBLe Of COnTenTS
ExEcUTIvE sUmmARy ................................................................................. 06
InTROdUcTIOn ............................................................................................ 09
PREvIOUs ATTEmPTs AT UnIfIcATIOn ........................................................ 10
THE sUPREmE mIlITARy cOmmAnd ............................................................ 16
REBEl OPERATIOns On EAcH fROnT ......................................................... 25
AddREssIng lImITATIOns And fUTURE OBsTAclEs ................................ 28
cOnclUsIOn ............................................................................................... 34
APPEndIx 1: wHOs wHO-sElEcTEd sUPREmE mIlITARy cOmmAnd mEmBERs ....... 36
APPEndIx 2: OPPOsITIOn UnITs .................................................................. 38
nOTEs .......................................................................................................... 46
mAPs & fIgUREs
mAP 1 | syRIA lOcATIOns lIsTIng ............................................................. 08
fIgURE 1 | jOInT cOmmAnd sTRUcTURE .................................................. 12
PHOTO 1 | THE gEnERAl cOmmAnd ............................................................ 13
PHOTO 2 | BRIgAdIER gEnERAl HUssEIn kOUlIyA .................................... 14
PHOTO 3 | lOUAI mIqdAd And OkAB sAkR ................................................. 15
fIgURE 2 | sUPREmE mIlITARy cOmmAnd sTRUcTURE ............................. 17
mAP 2 | AREA Of OPERATIOns fOR THE fIvE fROnTs ................................ 18
PHOTO 4 | sElEcTEd sUPREmE mIlITARy cOmmAnd mEmBERs ................ 19
PHOTO 5 | fAROUq TRAInIng sEssIOns ..................................................... 20
mAP 3 | THE BATTlE fOR wAdI Al-dEIf ...................................................... 21
mAP 4 | OPPOsITIOn cAmPAIgn UPdATE .................................................... 22
PHOTO 6 | sOc sEcRETARy gEnERAl mUsTAfA sABBAgH ......................... 23
mAP 5 | THE BATTlE fOR TAfTAnAz ............................................................ 24
mAP 6 | THE BATTlE fOR dAmAscUs .......................................................... 26
fIgURE 3 | gROUPs AffIlIATEd wITH THE syRIAn lIBERATIOn fROnT ..... 28
PHOTO 7 | m60 REcOIllEss gUn In AqRABA .............................................. 31
PHOTO 8 | RBg6 gREnAdE lAUncHER In HAmA .......................................... 32
PHOTO 9 | cOlOnEl AqIdI REcEIvEs wEAPOns ......................................... 32
fIgURE 4 | OPPOsITIOn gROUPs By fROnT ................................................ 39
miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
6 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
exeCUTiVe SUmmary
miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
fragmentation and disorganization have plagued Syrias armed opposition since peaceful protestors
took up arms in December 2011 and began forming rebel groups under the umbrella of the free
Syrian Army. A lack of unity has made cooperation and coordination difcult on the battlefeld and
has limited the efectiveness of rebel operations.
Since the summer of 2012, rebel commanders on the ground in Syria have begun to coordinate
tactically in order to plan operations and combine resources. This cooperation has facilitated many
important ofensives and rebels have taken control of the majority of the eastern portion of the
country, overrunning their frst provincial capital in March 2013 with the capture of al-Raqqa city.
However, rebels have been unable to capitalize on these successes, and fghting has largely stalemated
along current battle fronts particularly in the key areas of aleppo, homs and Damascus.
in order to overcome the current military stalemate, the opposition needs to develop an operational
level headquarters that can designate campaign priorities, task units to support priority missions, and
resource these units with the proper equipment to execute their missions. Recently, the opposition
has established a new national military structure that may grow to serve this purpose.
On December 7, 2012, rebel leaders from across Syria announced the election of a new 30-member
unifed command structure called the Supreme Joint Military Command Council, known as the
Supreme military Command (SmC). The Supreme military Command improves upon previous
attempts at armed opposition unifcation through higher integration of disparate rebel groups and
enhanced communication, which suggest that it could prove to be an enduring security institution.
The SMC includes all of Syrias most important opposition feld commanders, and its authority is
based on the power and infuence of these rebel leaders. Its legitimacy is derived from the bottom-
up, rather than top-down, and it has no institutional legitimacy apart from the legitimacy of the
commanders associated with the council. Thus, the SmC is not structurally cohesive, and its ability
to enforce command and control is dependent on the cooperation of each of its members.
The incorporation of rebel networks has resulted in chains of command that are not uniform across
the fve fronts, with each sub-unit retaining their own unique authority structures.
The SmCs primary function to date has been to serve as a platform for coordination. regardless of
the limits of its current command and control, the SmC has played an important role in syncing rebel
operations with several notable successes. it has allowed for greater opportunities for collaboration
and coordination among the disparate rebel groups operating in Syria.
as the SmC develops its institutional capacity, its ability to assert greater authority will likely depend on
its transactional legitimacy and its ability to distribute critical resources to rebel-held communities.
To date, disparate sources of funding have signifcantly handicapped the rebels ability to unite and
consolidate authority on a national level. although private sources of funding will likely continue
outside the parameters of the SmC, uniting the support channels of rebels main state sponsors will
be fundamental to ensuring the legitimacy of the new organization. The ability to provide resources
and material support to its sub-units is the determining factor in whether or not the SmC will be able
to unite rebel forces under its command and establish a level of command and control.
7 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
exeCUTiVe SUmmary
The SmC has the potential to serve as a check on radicalization and help to assert a moderate authority
in Syria. if the SmC can create enough incentives for moderation it will likely be able to marginalize
the most radical elements within its structure. To this end, the SmC has recognized the importance
of the inclusion of some of the more radical forces, while still drawing a red line at the inclusion of
forces that seek the destruction of a Syrian state, such as jihadist groups like Jabhat nusra.
Ultimately, even if the SmC only serves as a mechanism for greater cooperation and coordination,
it is a signifcant development in that it has united the eforts of rebel commanders across Syria. It
is the frst attempt at unity that incorporates important commanders from all Syrian provinces and
has enough legitimacy on the ground to even begin the process of building a structure capable of
providing a national-level chain of command.
Syrias state security apparatus will collapse as the Assad regime fnishes its transformation into a
militia-like entity. The Supreme military Command is currently the only organization that could
serve to fll the security vacuum left by this transformation. As the Syrian opposition begins to build
a transitional government, the SmC could create a framework for rebuilding Syrias security and
governing institutions if properly supported. The SmCs ability to act as a basis for a national defense
institution will be an important component in flling the power vacuum left by Assads fall and will
aid in a secure and stable Syria.
There remain a number of critical obstacles ahead for the SmC. They include the incorporation
of existing command networks, which will have an impact on command and control and resource
allocation; mitigating the strength of extremist groups; and managing disparate sources of fnancing.
Overcoming these obstacles will be difcult, especially as the nature of the confict transforms and
the sectarian polarization makes it more challenging to create a strong military institution and
professional armed force. although the SmC must do its part internally to overcome these obstacles,
its success will largely depend on greater international support and access to more resources.
The goal behind U.S. support to the opposition should be to build a force on the ground that is
committed to building a nonsectarian, stable Syria, with a government more likely to respect american
interests. Working with the SmC could enhance americas position vis--vis Syrias armed opposition
and provide a mechanism for stability should the assad regime fall.

miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
mAP 1 | syRIA lOcATIOns lIsTIng
10 mi
20 km
TURKEY
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JORDAN
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Latakia
Tartous
Homs
Hama
Aleppo
Idlib
Ar Raqqah
Damascus
As Suwayda
Deraa
Deir ez-Zor
Hasakah
1 Abu Duhur 16 Dumayr Airbase 31 Khirbet Ghazaleh 46 Qalat al Madiq 61 Taftanaz Airbase
2 Abu Kamal 17 Furqlus 32 Kiswah 47 Qamishli 62 Tal Aybad
3 Afrin 18 Haffeh 33 Laqbah 48 Qardahah 63 Tal Qartal
4 al Bab 19 Halfiyah 34 Maarat al Numan 49 Qataneh 64 Tal Rifat
5 al Lejah 20 Harim 35 Marea 50 Qbeir 65 Talbisseh
6 al Qusayr 21 Houleh 36 Marj Ruhayl Airbase 51 Qutayfah 66 Taqba Airbase
7 al Safir 22 Izraa 37 Mastouma / Shayrat Airbase 52 Rabia 67 Telkalakh
8 Ariha 23 J ableh 38 Masyaf 53 Rankous 68 Tiyas Airbase
9 Atareb 24 J arrah Airbase 39 Mayadin 54 Ras al Ayn 69 Wadi Nasariyah
10 Azaz 25 J asim & Inkhil 40 Minakh Airbase 55 Rastan 70 Yabrud
11 Bab Hawa 26 J ebal al-Zawiya 41 Mismiyah 56 Saiqal Airbase 71 Zabadani
12 Baniyas 27 J isr al-Shughour 42 Muhradeh 57 Sanamein
13 Binnish 28 Khalkalakh Airbase 43 Nasariyah Airbase 58 Saraqib
14 Dael 29 Khan Sheikhoun 44 Nawa 59 Suqalabiyah
15 Damascus Int'l Airport 30 Kherweis Airbase 45 Palmyra / Tadmor 60 Suwayda Airbase
9 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
To achieve the tactical benefts of uniting forces,
rebel commanders on the ground have planned and
executed joint operations and coordinated resources
beginning with rebel ofensives in the summer and fall
of 2012. however, as rebels have reached the limits of
their ability to confront hardened regime strongholds,
fghting has stalled along current battle lines. In order
to overcome the current military stalemate, rebels will
need to consolidate gains, develop a campaign strategy,
and coordinate their maneuvers at the operational level.
These requirements depend upon the successful unity of
efort, if not command, across rebel groups throughout
Syria.
After numerous failed attempts at unifcation, rebel
commanders have created a new centralized leadership
body that may succeed where others have failed, if given
sufcient resources. On December 7, 2012, rebel leaders
from across Syria announced the election of a new 30-
member unifed command structure called the Supreme
Joint military Command Council, or the Supreme
military Command (SmC). This announcement
followed a three-day conference held in antalya, Turkey
that was attended by more than 260 rebel commanders as
well as security ofcials from the United States, Britain,
france, the Gulf States, and Jordan.
1

Some have dismissed the new Supreme military
Command, arguing that rebel attempts to unify have
continuously foundered. These critics point to a number
of previous organizations that had failed to achieve the
same objective, including the february 2012 higher
revolutionary Council and the September 2012 Joint
Command. The Supreme military Command should
not be seen as a new organization, however. instead,
it is a composite of previous organizations which rebel
The free Syrian army
By elizabeth OBagy
MIDDLE EAST SECURITY REPORT 9
The opposition movement in Syria has been fragmented from its inception, a direct refection of
Syrias social complexity and the decentralized grassroots origin of the uprising. This condition
has plagued Syrias armed opposition since peaceful protestors took up arms and began forming
rebel groups under the umbrella of the free Syrian army (fSa) in the summer of 2011. a lack
of unity has made cooperation and coordination difcult on the battlefeld and has limited the
efectiveness of rebel operations. It has also reduced the rebels ability to garner international
support and backing.
commanders have improved by adapting to signifcant
lessons learned. most notably, the new SmC blends
grassroots representation with exiled defector expertise,
and establishes combat support and combat service
support functions in order to improve the delivery of
materiel and resources to rebel ranks.
Until now, disparate sources of funding have signifcantly
handicapped the rebels ability to unite and consolidate
authority on a national level. as the SmC develops
its institutional capacity, its ability to assert greater
authority and unite rebel forces under its command will
likely depend on its transactional legitimacy, especially
its ability to distribute critical resources to rebel-
held communities. The SmC must demonstrate its
legitimacy by consolidating the support of rebels main
state sponsors, even if some private sources of funding
continue to fow to forces outside of its channels.
a new U.S. policy supports the SmCs legitimacy.
Secretary of State John f. Kerry announced on february
28, 2013 that the U.S. will provide non-lethal aid,
including food, medicine, and training assistance,
through the Supreme military Command of the free
Syrian army.
2
This announcement represents the frst
time that the U.S. has publicly committed itself to
sending non-lethal support to Syrias armed opposition.
The shift is intended to empower Syrias moderate forces,
although it falls short of the weapons and equipment that
Syrian rebels have requested. The policy decision against
providing lethal aid is largely due to concerns over the
emergence of powerful islamist brigades and extremist
groups in Syria. By ofering support through the new
military command, the U.S. is looking to build a better
relationship with Syrias armed opposition and check the
radical elements within its ranks.
10 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
PREvIOUs ATTEmPTs AT UnIfIcATIOn
Syrias armed opposition is often
described as a fractious array
of rebel groups. many groups
refer to themselves as members
of the free Syrian army, or
fSa. This term, however, is not
used in reference to a specifc
organization, but rather as a sort
of catch-all brand name referring
to the Syrian armed opposition in general. in this way,
the fSa label should be understood as a synonym for the
resistance, similar to la resistance in france during WWii.
although it is true to say that the armed opposition has
been highly fragmented because of the proliferation of
rebel group names and afliations, two organizational
patterns have emerged over the course of the armed
struggle that help make sense of how Syrias opposition
is structured. Specifcally, rebel units can be loosely
classifed into two diferent categories: localized
battalions and larger franchise brigades.
Localized battalions tend to associate themselves
predominantly with the fSa and are organized loosely
through the provincial military Councils. These units
fght within a limited geographical scope typically
in defense of their home village or town, are rarely
ideologically driven, and are funded by the international
patrons of the Joint Command or other fSa sponsors.
On the other hand, franchise brigades have emerged
that tend to be led by civilians or other low-ranking
defectors, are more ideologically motivated, and tend to
be patronized by private donors.
3
The franchise brigades,
such as the Farouq Battalions or Suqour al-Sham Brigade,
are often much larger, conduct operations in multiple
provinces across Syria, and operate independently of fSa
structures. although these rebel units often cooperated
with one another under the unifed goal of defeating
the assad regime, the bifurcation between localized
battalions and franchise brigades has frequently led to
infghting and fractures within rebel ranks.
4

Another signifcant obstacle to greater unifcation
has been the gap between exiled leadership and feld
commanders operating inside of Syria. Since the creation
of the free Syria army (fSa) under the leadership of
riad al-asaad, commanders working from outside of
Syria have proven unable to direct combat operations
or signifcantly afect events inside. This has resulted
as the U.S. looks to support Syrias opposition in new
ways, understanding the composition and structure of the
Supreme military Command will be vital in determining
the viability of the organization and the efect such
limited support will have. although there remain limits
to its current command and control, the SmC plays
an important role in synchronizing rebel operations.
it has increased opportunities for collaboration and
coordination among the disparate rebel groups operating
in Syria. it also has the potential to serve as a check on
radicalization and help to assert a moderate authority
in Syria. if the SmC can create strong incentives for
moderation, it will likely be able to marginalize the most
radical elements within its structure.
The SMC has made a concerted efort to bring armed
revolutionary groups under the umbrella of a unifed
military command by building strong links with armed
opposition groups inside Syria and creating a platform
for the development of a countrywide military strategy.
Yet despite the signifcant progress the SMC has made,
a number of critical obstacles lie ahead. They include
the incorporation of existing command networks,
which will have an impact on command and control and
resource allocation; mitigating the strength of extremist
groups like the foreign Terrorist Organization Jabhat
Nusra; and managing disparate sources of fnancing
which pose problems for providing material aid to
rebel-held communities. Overcoming these obstacles
will be difcult, especially as the nature of the confict
transforms and the sectarian polarization makes it more
challenging to create a strong military institution and
professional armed force. although the SmC must do
its part internally to overcome these obstacles, its success
will depend on greater international support and access
to more resources.
The SmC is currently the only organization that, if
properly supported, could ultimately help fll the vacuum
created by the collapse of the state security apparatus and
establish a framework for rebuilding Syrias security and
governing institutions. as Bashar al-assads security
institutions have diminished, giving rise to an increase in
pro-regime militia activity, the creation of a united rebel
front is a critical step in building a transitional structure
that can fll the security vacuum and ensure stability in a
post-assad Syria. The Supreme military Command may
be the last opportunity for the U.S. to help empower an
organization that could serve to fll the security vacuum
left by this transformation.
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miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
units were able to open communication channels with
the leadership based in Turkey and also gained access
to more reliable supply routes. although the Turkish
government denied any part in arming the Syrian rebels,
many Syrians claimed that Turkeys red light on the
border had been turned green, and large consignments
of weapons were being openly smuggled into Syria.
10

The open secret of arms transfers coincided with
indications of Cia involvement along the border and
news that Turkey had set up a secret base, along with allies
Saudi arabia and Qatar, in order to direct vital military
and communications aid to the rebels.
11
as international
consensus swung largely in their favor, the rebels were
able to seize upon tactical gains and border access to
create a de facto liberated zone in northern Syria.
The opening of the Turkish-Syrian border and the
establishment of a rebel-controlled northern Syria
allowed for the frst signifcant attempt to bridge
the internal-external divide within leadership ranks
of Syrias opposition. in September 2012, a video
posted on YouTube flmed inside Syria announced the
formation of the Joint Command for the revolutions
military Council. in the announcement video, Brigadier
General Mithqal al-Bateesh stated that he was forming
the Joint Command in order to synchronize forces from
inside and outside the country. following Bateeshs
statement, Major Mahir al-Nuaimi, former ofcial FSA
spokesman, added that the goal of the joint command
was to organize and systemize the command structures
in order to make our actions more efective against this
brutal regime.
12
The Joint Command included an organized structure
with a well-defned chain of command. It prescribed
a General Command that would oversee and direct
all rebel operations. The General Command had fve
members: Brigadier General Mithqal al-Bateesh,
Brigadier General Salim idriss, Brigadier General abdel
majid Dabis, Brigadier General zaki Loli, and Brigadier
General ziad fahd. Below the General Command sat
fourteen provincial military Councils that were directly
accountable to the Joint Command and were responsible
for carrying out its orders in each of the provinces.
There was also a Coordination Ofce that was responsible
for facilitating communication channels and helping
to ensure the coordination and cooperation of the
provincial Military Councils. The Coordination Ofce
ultimately came to play a decisive role in the appointment
in little internal cooperation taking place on a cross-
province level, with feld commanders maintaining total
authority over their specifc forces.
initially a substantial impediment was posed by the
isolation of defecting ofcers and soldiers in ofcer
camps in Turkey. Unlike the refugee camps that were
situated closer to the border, these ofcer camps were
located deeper inside Turkey. They were also much more
tightly controlled by the Turkish government.
5
Their
location and additional security requirements made
it difcult for ofcers inside of the camps to connect
with feld commanders. Despite the obvious limitations
in command and control, this leadership body claimed
to represent all rebel groups operating inside of Syria
and was recognized by foreign powers as the leaders of
the armed opposition. however, this exiled leadership
body was removed from events on the ground and
unrepresentative of grassroots opposition groups.
although many rebels continue to pledge allegiance to
riad al-asaad and nominally recognize him as the leader
of the fSa, they widely acknowledge that he exerts
no infuence over the internal leadership of groups
operating inside Syria.
6
Since the creation of the fSa
under asaad, rivalries within the ranks of the exiled
leadership have perpetuated its image as a disorganized
command. These rivalries have also led to some ofcers
breaking away from the central fSa leadership body in
order to establish their own command structures, most
notably General mustafa Sheikh and the creation of the
higher revolutionary Council in february 2012.
7
yet
Sheikhs council faced the same difculties as did the FSA
leadership in connecting with feld commanders, and it
proved just as inefective. By the summer of 2012, Sheikh
reconciled with asaad, and the higher revolutionary
Council was rejoined with the fSa leadership in Turkey,
despite continuing tension and rivalry between the
two.
8
Their reconciliation was an attempt to retain a
sense of legitimacy and relevance as their authority was
increasingly challenged by the growing infuence and
power of rebel commanders inside Syria.
The Joint Command for the Revolutions Military Council
During the summer of 2012, conditions along the
Turkish border signifcantly changed. Starting in May
2012, a series of successful rebel ofensives allowed
rebel units to seize large swaths of territory along the
Turkish-Syrian border.
9
By consolidating their control
over a number of important border crossings, rebel
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miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
country remained fraught, and a number of disputes
arose over operations and strategy such that subordinate
battalions broke of from the command.
14

The Joint Command was also challenged by the rise of
prominent Islamist and Salafst brigades in Syria. From
its inception, the organization attempted to marginalize
ideologically afliated rebel units, fearing that any
religious connotation undermined what they saw as
an inclusive, secular movement. This was a deliberate
decision made by the Joint Command in order to
garner broader support from minority communities
and to reassure the international community of the
organizations adherence to democratic principles.
15
it
also refected the credentials of the Joint Command,
which was constituted by defectors who looked to
establish a professional body based on their experience
and knowledge of the Syrian military.
The Joint Commands avowed secularism did not,
however, refect conditions on the ground. By the
summer of 2012, protracted fghting had led to a surge
in religiosity and exacerbated sectarian fault lines. This
situation paved the way for the proliferation of ideological
groups among the opposition. These groups exhibited
of the military Council leaders after coming under the
command of Saudi representatives working with the
Joint Command. The efects of this Saudi infuence will
be discussed in detail at a later point.
at its inception, the Joint Command claimed that
it accounted for 80 percent of armed opposition
groups inside of Syria.
13
While this fgure has proven
to be overestimated, many of the Joint Command
members, particularly the military Council heads, did
derive legitimacy from experience in combat against
government forces, and many commanded battalions and
brigades inside Syria. in this way, the Joint Command
sought to unite important feld commanders with exiled
leaders who had greater access to resources and support
channels. it also sought to create a more inclusive
leadership that could account for minority communities
by including leaders such as Captain Biwar mustafa, a
Kurdish commander of the Salah al-Din Brigade, into
the decision-making process.
From the beginning, the organization faced difculties
in asserting its control over the various armed factions
inside of Syria. Within the organization, communication
between leaders on the inside and those outside of the
fIgURE 1 | jOInT cOmmAnd sTRUcTURE
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miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
with disparate sources of external funding proving the
largest obstacle. Two of the rebels most important patrons,
Saudi arabia and Qatar, are competing with each other
for power and infuence by supporting diferent groups
inside of Syria. although they initially agreed to unite
support behind the Joint Command, a rift surfaced by
late October 2012, when Saudi representatives working
with the Joint Command believed that the Qataris had
designed the structure to enhance their infuence at the
expense of the Saudis.
20

This perception prevented Saudi and Qatari sponsors
from uniting their support behind the Joint Command,
instead leading them to select individual allies from
inside and outside the organization. This signifcantly
contributed to the failure of the Joint Command by
bypassing its distribution mechanisms and creating
rivalries within the organization. as will be discussed
later in the context of the new Supreme military
Command, Saudi and Qatari sources of funding must be
united in order to create a single, unifed command. If
they are not, disparate channels of funding will continue
to fragment the opposition and hinder its development
into a viable post-assad alternative security structure.
at the Joint Commands inception, the Qatari
representatives were focused upon aiding the
regional military Councils by delivering goods to the
military Council leaders who would then distribute
them to subordinate brigades. however, the Saudi
representatives took control of the Coordination Ofce
and began appointing commanders and deputies loyal to
its leadership and positioning them into areas where the
Saudis had less infuence, likely as a means of countering
the growing infuence of the Qataris and in an attempt
to gain wider infuence over more independent rebel
groups. Thus, although the Coordination Ofce was
originally created to help support communication
between the councils and handle logistics only, it came
to hold even more power than the ofce of the General
Command due to its ability to appoint and infuence
council heads.
This greatly angered many rebels who felt that the new
leadership had been forced on them, and instead they
chose to elect their own leaders. Thus, in a few provinces
there were two functioning military Council leaders,
the appointed leader and the elected leader. rivalries
between these appointed and elected leaders continued
to fragment fghting forces inside Syria, and often led
to internal clashes where one or the other leader was
signifcant infuence on the ground. Consequently, the
exclusion of Islamist and Salafst commanders ultimately
led to rivalries among the prominent independent
brigades and the military Councils, especially in areas
where Islamist or Salafst Brigades like the Farouq
Battalions in Homs or the Suqour al-Sham Brigade in
Idlib were more established and commanded signifcantly
larger forces. in some cases, these rivalries devolved into
armed clashes between the independent brigades and the
military Councils.
16
Disagreements often centered on
administration of rebel-controlled areas, including the
practice of establishing religious courts to administer
justice and fying the black fag typically associated with
jihadist organizations like al-Qaeda.
17
Part of the Joint Commands dispute with islamist
and Salafst brigades was due to the perception that
other religious fgures had been included in the Joint
Command. The organization was initially criticized by
many for its high-profle patron, controversial religious
fgure Sheikh Adnan Arour. Arour is well known in Syria
for his fery tele-salafst weekly satellite program, during
which he has vowed to grind the fesh of pro-regime
alawites and feed it to the dogs.
18

his discourse has played well into the regimes sectarian
narrative, and government forces have dubbed the
opposition araeer, a satirical play on the arabic plural
form of arours name. Despite arours endorsement,
the overall composition of the Joint Command remained
moderate. The Joint Command had included arour
because he was an efective fundraiser in the Gulf, and
multiple sources report that he was warned to temper his
remarks or risk isolation.
19
Overall, his inclusion is more
indicative of the importance of ideological fnanciers in the
Gulf rather than that of the Joint Commands ideology.
external factors also helped to fragment the leadership,
PHOTO 1 | THE gEnERAl cOmmAnd
14 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
favoritism. This is especially true in aleppo, where
Tawhid Brigade leader abdel Qadir Salah cooperated
with aleppo military Council leader Colonel abdel Jabar
al-Aqidi, despite ofcially retaining a separate leadership
structure. In an interview, Col. Aqidi stated that despite
the fact that the majority of groups in northern aleppo
worked closely together, they were forced to work under
separate structures in order to retain access to a variety
of funding sources.
26

Primarily as a consequence of disparate sources of
funding, the Joint Command was never able to assert
its leadership over the majority of rebel groups. it
failed to implement command and control because its
authority was undermined by the growth and infuence
of independent brigades that were ideologically distinct
and had their own sources of funding. These groups
were beholden to their suppliers, both private and state
sponsors, and thus had separate operational imperatives
from that of the Joint Command. hence, operations
were conducted independently, limiting their ability to
achieve a strategic objective.
Ultimately, the Joint Command was unable to overcome
these obstacles and establish a unifed chain of command
for rebel forces. many of its leaders, however, learned
from this frst major attempt to unify external and
internal command structures and carried these lessons
over to the Supreme Military Command. Three of the fve
commanders on the General Command now sit on the
SMC, and fve of the provincial Military Council heads
are members, with a number of others closely involved
with the SMC although not ofcially members.
The Five Fronts Command
in early november 2012, the Syrian opposition convened
in Doha in yet another attempt to unify ranks. The Doha
forcibly exiled from the area.
21

The example of the Sahel, or coastal, military Council
best exemplifes the problems that arose due to foreign
fnancing and infuence. The ofcial head of the Sahel
military Council, Brigadier General hussain Kouliya,
was appointed to the position by the Coordination Ofce
at the behest of the Saudi representatives, despite having
little authority over rebel forces operating in the Latakia
province. Brig. Gen. Kouliya was widely distrusted on
the ground, and rumors quickly circulated that he was
both a spy for Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan and a
Cia plant.
22
in a meeting held by rebel groups in the
province, rebel commanders rejected his leadership and
instead elected ahmed rehal to serve as the head of Sahel
military Council.
yet, because Kouliya controlled the access to resources,
rebels were forced to continue working with him despite
operational authority being placed in the hands of
rehal. Thus, for a short time following the meeting,
both rehal and Kouliya were serving as the leader of
the Sahel Military Council, which led to conficting
commands regarding rebel operations and infghting
over resource distribution.
23
Only through the creation
of the Supreme military Command and the appointment
of a new leadership body for the coastal area has this
confict been resolved.
24

The favoritism displayed by the rebels patrons also
caused problems for the distribution of arms. The Joint
Commands leadership had intended for the organization
to serve as a mechanism for distributing arms and
resources, yet weapons were continuously distributed
in secret. State sponsors, alongside private suppliers,
began to work outside of the framework of the Joint
Command, seeking pledges of loyalty from armed groups
inside the country regardless of whether they were part
of the organization. Colonel Aff Suleiman, head of the
idlib military Council, complained about the problems
caused by disparate sources of funding. in an interview
with Time, he stated that the Saudi representative to the
Joint Command Okab Sakr, a Lebanese businessman,
got involved in the issue of weapons to split our ranks,
to divide the revolutionaries he formed a rift within
the council, and we are working to heal this rift.
25
in some cases, the independent brigades and the
military Councils worked closely together but chose to
remain under separate leadership structures in order to
exploit diferent channels of funding caused by patron
PHOTO 2 | BRIgAdIER gEnERAl HUssEIn kOUlIyA
15 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
businessman Okab Sakr, the former Saudi representative
to the Joint Command mentioned previously, and is
widely known as being loyal to Saudi patronage.
33

Shortly after Miqdads announcement, a video was
posted on youTube featuring higher military Council
head Mustafa Sheikh confrming the formation of
the fve fghting fronts.
34
Both Sheikhs and Miqdads
endorsement of the five fronts Command suggests that,
from the beginning, the organization was associated
more with the external fSa leadership body than with
forces on the ground. Unlike the Joint Command, the
five fronts Command never received the buy-in from
many important feld commanders, and it failed to win
the loyalty of the majority of rebel groups inside Syria.
many rebels believed it to be a clear attempt by Saudi
arabia to manipulate Syrian rebel groups and create a
loyal proxy force.
35

Despite the fact that the command did not encompass
a majority of forces on the ground, it retained a
considerable amount of infuence due to its resources.
Some feld commanders reported that they attended
meetings with the command and ostensibly cooperated
with them in order to gain access to funding and weapons,
despite viewing the outft with distrust.
36
it was also
believed that the Five Fronts Command ofered rebels
more strategic insight and gave better tactical advice than
the Joint Command. One rebel commander stated that
the five fronts Command had strategic vision, which
the Joint Command lacked, and it provided better
expertise on tactical operations.
37
Thus, there were a
number of commanders, such as Colonel Qassim Suad
al-Din, who worked with both the Joint Command and
the five fronts Command.
38

although the five front Command achieved little
success in uniting rebel groups under its coordination,
the geographical division of Syria into fronts is a
meeting was publicized as a political conference to unite
the opposition based on the Syrian national initiative,
a proposal developed by prominent opposition fgure
riad Seif to create a new coalition that would incorporate
all factions of the Syrian opposition and replace the
ailing Syrian national Council (SnC) as the legitimate
representative of the opposition.
27
Unlike the SnC,
which failed to connect with forces on the ground and
sufered from a lack of legitimacy, the Syrian National
initiative sought to form a political leadership that was
based on the inclusion of the grassroots opposition
networks including the free Syrian army and other
armed groups.
28

While all eyes were on this gathering of political
leaders, the Qataris were also holding a private meeting
for rebel commanders. They invited all provincial
military Council leaders, the most prominent rebel
commanders from each of the larger brigades within the
Joint Command structure, and commanders from the
independent brigades. With promises of funding and
weapons along with signifcant incentive money paid
up front for attendance, many important commanders
agreed to travel to Doha for the meeting.
29

The Saudis saw this second Doha meeting as an attempt
to sideline their infuence among the opposition
and decided to create their own rebel organization by
breaking away from the Joint Command structure.
They reportedly ofered vast sums to Military Council
leaders and independent brigade leaders to refuse the
Qatari invitation and work directly with Saudi arabia
instead.
30
although many of the most important rebel
commanders ignored the request and traveled to Doha,
a select few commanders chose to stay in Syria and side
with the Saudi representatives.
On november 5, 2012, while the Doha meetings were
taking place, a video was posted on youTube announcing
the formation of the five fronts Command. in the
announcement, spokesman for the higher revolutionary
Council Louai Miqdad stated that the FSA had devised
a new fve front command structure to unite rebel
forces based on the strategic alignment of certain
areas into fve fghting fronts.
31
The announcement
was featured prominently on Al-Arabiya and covered by
Asharq al-Awsat, two Saudi arabian media conglomerates,
although it was never reported on by the Qatari media
giant al-Jazeera.
32
This detail confrms the role of Saudi
arabia in the formation of the five fronts Command.
Moreover, Louai Miqdad is a close associate of Lebanese
PHOTO 3 | lOUAI mIqdAd And OkAB sAkR
16 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
military, include elected positions.
The command is divided into fve geographic fronts with
six elected members each: the eastern front, the western/
middle front, the northern front, the southern front,
and the Homs front. The fve fronts construction draws
upon the Saudi precedent of the five fronts Command
and consolidates the fourteen military Councils into
fve operational headquarters. The estimated geographic
boundaries of the fve fronts are illustrated in Map 2.
Five military deputies and fve civilian assistant deputies
were appointed by SmC members to head each front.
These appointees are recognized for their tactical
knowledge and combat experience, and are thus seen
as important operational commanders for each of
the fronts. Each front also has fve departments to
perform combat support and combat service support
functions including Operations, intelligence,
Supply and Processing, financial and administrative
Afairs, and Transitional Justice, with an appointed
departmental head to oversee and supervise the actions
of each department.
43
By contrast, the Supreme military
Command does not have corresponding departments at
the Front level. Consequently, at this time, the SMC does
not have organic support assets, nor does it have control
over the allocation of resources that are obtained by the
individual fronts. The signifcance of this formulation is
its incorporation of existing supply chains and networks
within each of the fronts in order to eventually channel
them through the centralized units of the SmC. Until
this occurs, the SmC will experience degradation in its
ability to orchestrate operational priorities across all
fronts.
The SmC does have two centralized departments, an arms
committee and a fnancial committee, each composed
of fve representatives from among the councils 30
members.
44
at the head of the command is the Chief of
Staf, who is aided by a support ofce, an arms ofce,
and a communication ofce.
The Supreme military Command should not be seen as
a new organization that was created during a three-day
time period by rebel commanders. instead, it should
be understood as the product of a process that has
been underway for many months. rebel commanders,
both inside and outside of Syria, have slowly been
developing the mechanisms and structural foundation
for an organization that could unite rebel groups to meet
requirements set by ground conditions, international
precedent that still endures under the new Supreme
military Command and is a hallmark of continued Saudi
infuence during its creation.
THE sUPREmE mIlITARy cOmmAnd
The Doha meeting in early november
2012 resulted in the creation of a
political organization, the Syrian
Opposition Coalition (SOC). The
Coalition partially subsumed the
previous SnC structure, incorporating
some of its members into a new
political leadership. Shortly after SOCs creation, rebel
commanders decided to convene an internal conference
to discuss the unifcation of rebel groups. Many of
these commanders had attended the talks in Doha and
had been in communication with the political leaders
gathered there. They emerged from these meetings with
a renewed interest in unifcation, in order to serve as
the Supreme military Command outlined by SOC in its
plan for the establishment of a transitional government
inside Syria.
39
in early December 2012, over 260 rebel
commanders from all over Syria gathered in antalya,
Turkey to agree on a unifed command structure, creating
the Supreme military Command with the goal of serving
as a Defense ministry for SOCs future transitional
government.
40
The gathering was openly attended by
security ofcials from the United States, Britain, France,
the Gulf, Turkey, and Jordan, and it was monitored by
international delegates from numerous countries.
41

after three days of intensive talks, conference attendees
agreed to create a formally organized and structured
command called the Supreme Joint military Command,
most commonly translated as the Supreme military
Command (SmC). They expressed three main goals
behind the creation of the SmC: to unite forces on the
ground to prevent anarchy; to sideline external elements
and reduce their infuence over the fate of the Syrian
people; and to prevent extremist elements from taking
over centers of power in the country.
Once the structure was agreed upon, participants elected
30 members to serve on the new command, 11 former
ofcers and 19 civilians.
42
although it is highly unusual
for there to be elected positions within a military
command, the opposition has sought to adhere to
democratic principles and enforce a level of accountability
by emphasizing the importance of elections. Thus, all
current opposition leadership bodies, both political and
17 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
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18 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
structure and the Saudi-designed five front Command.
although private sources of funding will likely continue
to fow into Syria, aligning the resources of the two state
sponsors is essential for the SmC to have transactional
legitimacy and maintain the ability to serve as a reliable
mechanism for distribution of resources.
Establishing a Chain of Command
in order to better understand the SmCs ability to
establish a chain of command, it is necessary to frst
look at its organizational precedents, which underlay
the SmCs foundation. Under the Joint Command, the
military Council heads were meant to report directly
to the General Command. in practice, however,
the General Command did not exercise operational
patron demands, and the severe limitations imposed by
the operationally superior Syrian government forces.
The process has been highly fuid, and the armed
opposition has adapted as circumstances have dictated.
Thus, each failed attempt at unifcation has contributed
to opposition leaders learning curve, and the new SmC
has sought to address the problems that rendered these
previous structures inefective.
The SmC also represents the convergence of
international patron interests. a necessary condition for
the SmCs creation was an agreement between Qatar and
Saudi arabia, as the rebels most important backers, to
channel their support through one organization. Thus,
the SmC is an amalgamation of the Qatari-designed
Joint Command and its provincial military Council
TURKEY
IQ
JORDAN
L
E
B
A
N
O
N
Eastern Front
Northern Front
Central Front
Homs Front
Southern Front
Latakia
Tartous
Homs
Hama
Aleppo
Idlib Al Raqqah
Damascus
As Suwayda
Deraa
Deir ez-Zor
Hasakah
Rastan
al Qusayr
Yabrud
Zabadani
Abu Kamal
Tal Aybad
Ras al Ain
Afrin
mAP 2 | AREA Of OPERATIOns fOR THE fIvE fROnTs
19 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
independent brigades were incorporated into the SmC,
their internal chains of authority remained intact. This
decision has had two important efects. First, chains of
command are not uniform across the fve fronts, with
each sub-unit retaining their own unique authority
structures. Second, loyalty remains in the hands of the
commander, rather than to the new SmC command.
Thus, the SmC is not structurally cohesive, and its
ability to enforce command and control is dependent
on the cooperation of each of its members.
although the SmC as an institution has little authority,
it has asserted a degree of command and control through
orchestrating the cooperation of its members and
deputies. Weekly meetings are held to provide updates
on current operations, coordinate eforts and actions,
advise on tactics, and discuss future operations. These
meetings typically include reports from each of the fve
fronts and updates on the movements and actions of
associated rebel units; an assessment of current strengths
and weaknesses; debates on how resources should be
distributed and how they can be better utilized; and
collective discussion on tactics and operations. meetings
are often led by Deputy Chief of Staf Mustafa Abdel
Karim, who functionally serves as the operational
commander overseeing the fve fronts. He does not have
the authority to issue commands, and decisions tend to
be made collectively. Thus, abdel Karims primary role
is to weigh rebel eforts with current resources, help
assess the placement of assets, and mediate between the
difering needs of front commanders and members.
47

For his part, the Chief of Staf, Major General Salim
Idriss, is seen more as a political leader than as a feld
commander. many members of the SmC remarked that
his election to the position of Chief of Staf was in part
control over the councils. Thus, the organizations did
not serve as a national-level organization, but instead
were a collection of provincial-level organizations
that conducted operations and organized logistics
independently of one another. each military Council
focused not on coordinating more efectively with
all rebel units inside Syria, but rather on gaining the
cooperation of rebel units within their limited areas of
operation.
45

The military Councils were largely successful in
establishing a degree of command and control within
their geographical scope. This success resulted in a
maturing provincial-level insurgent structure through
which the SmC is now looking to implement a national-
level chain of command.
46
Thus, the SmC stands at the
nexus of a grassroots military structure and a hierarchical
military institution. Syrias armed militias are gradually
attempting to transform into the likeness of a national
army by applying a centralized, hierarchical structure.
military defectors working with the SmC have retained
their institutional military expertise. These defectors are
seeking to create the framework needed to build a military
institution that suits the characteristics of the opposition
forces and realities on the ground. SmC leaders have
therefore made compromises between theoretical
structure and real-world application. Thus, while the
SmC would like to function as a Defense ministry at the
head of an uncontested chain of command, it is currently
more akin to a corps level headquarters that serves more
to coordinate than to command.
Signifcant obstacles remain to creating an institutional
framework capable of achieving a higher level of
operational command. When the military Councils and
PHOTO 4 | sElEcTEd sUPREmE mIlITARy cOmmAnd mEmBERs
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regime forces and announced that the peacekeepers
would be treated as war prisoners and would not be
released until the Syrian military withdrew from the
area.
49
Shortly after, a subsequent video disavowed the
initial statement and claimed that the Un forces were
being held for their own protection and were being
treated as guests.
50
The fact that the yarmouk martyrs
Brigade replaced the original more hostile statement
with a far more conciliatory statement indicates that the
brigade responded positively to pressure it received from
the SmC as well as fellow rebels in the Deraa province.
Rebel commanders from the Southern front confrmed
that the brigade bowed to pressure and allowed the
peacekeepers to be safely escorted to Jordan.
51

While the case of the detained Un peacekeepers is a
promising sign of greater command and control, the
SmCs current emphasis remains on collective decision-
making rather than top-down commands. regardless
of the limits of its current command and control, the
SmC has played an important role in synchronizing
rebel operations. it has provided greater opportunities
for collaboration and coordination among the disparate
rebel groups operating in Syria. Through the SmC,
rebel commanders in the north are now able to better
communicate with commanders in central and southern
Syria and collectively discuss ways to improve the
efectiveness of operations, including the allocation of
forces and resources when necessary.
The SmC has therefore enhanced the level of cooperation
at a cross-provincial level. no longer do rebel brigades
operate solely within a distinct provincial geographic
boundary. more often, brigades are lending forces and
allocating resources to aid in operations occurring in
areas outside of their distinct fronts and are developing
cross-provincial campaigns as part of the larger
strategy to target regime infrastructure. This loaning of
personnel to weight efort is particularly practiced by
the larger franchise brigades that are organizationally
more developed and have internal hierarchies capable
of command and control. Unlike the smaller, localized
battalions, franchised brigades such as the Farouq
Battalions and the Tawhid Brigade have broadened
their areas of operations and are sending support to the
other fronts in which key battles are taking place. This
suggests greater cooperation is taking place within each
of the fronts as well as across fronts in order to achieve
strategic objectives.
due to his ability to serve as a diplomat for the council.
48

He was not chosen because of his command of signifcant
ground forces or his operational efectiveness, but instead
for his ability to serve as a political representative for
the council and for his personal relationships to foreign
ofcials, and more importantly, to suppliers.
Since his defection in July 2012, idriss has worked to
unite rebel forces and create an organization that could
establish command and control over them. he was an
important liaison to the Qatari funders in facilitating
the creation of the Joint Command, and he played an
important role within the organization up until its merger
into the SmC. he also has a warm relationship with
SOC Secretary-General mustafa Sabbagh. regardless of
whether Idriss relationship to Sabbagh and other ofcials
has tangible benefts or not, Idriss has gained a reputation
for his ability to access resources and distribute them to
rebel groups fghting in Syria. Although this reputation
helped secure him the position of Chief of Staf, he
has so far struggled to meet expectations and has faced
difculty obtaining resources and distributing them to
the fronts. moreover, because idriss role is perceived to
be more political than military, rebel commanders do
not see him as the head a top-down chain of command.
This has limited his ability to assert authority over the
individual SmC commanders who exercise the highest
level of command on the ground.
in a sign of the SmCs enhanced authority, Gen. idriss was
able to exert pressure on the yarmouk martyrs Brigade to
ensure the release of 21 U.n. Disengagement Observer
force (UnDOf) peacekeepers who were detained by
the brigade on march 6, 2013. in a video posted online
immediately following the detention, the yarmouk
martyrs Brigade accused the Un troops of assisting
PHOTO 5 | fAROUq TRAInIng sEssIOns
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between rebel groups operating in the north and in the
south is signifcant and its implications will be discussed
later in this report. That cross-brigade and cross-front
joint endeavors are taking place to account for the divide
and create a greater parity of forces is a testament to the
desire for greater cooperation and represents a higher
level of coordination than previously seen.
The efects of a coordinated dialogue on operations are
already apparent in a number of recent rebel successes.
For example, unlike previous ofensives that tended to
be disorganized and poorly coordinated by a few loosely
linked brigades, the operations targeting Wadi al-Deif
military base have been carefully planned and are part of a
wider strategy to attack the regimes reinforced structures.
multiple units from across Syria have participated in the
operations, and many have brought signifcant resources
to bear in this key battlefront.
54
although the SmC did
not take the organizational lead in this case, it did help
to facilitate the movement of forces and allocation of
resources from other fronts.
55

Part of this enhanced cooperation among rebel groups
includes new training courses being ofered by some
of the larger brigades to train forces from across the
fve fronts. Videos have surfaced on YouTube of troops
from the Deraa military Council being trained by two
commanders from the Farouq Battalions. The training
classes are part of an organized efort by the Fajr al-Islam
Battalion in conjunction with experienced and efcient
commanders from the Farouq Battalions.
52
according to
statements made during the video, these comprehensive
training courses include physical ftness and weapons
training, with a more robust military syllabus to be
developed in the future. Such cooperation is unique as
the Farouq Battalions do not have active units in Deraa,
and these diferent groups have not previously shown the
inclination to work together.
The video also announces that this group is its second
graduating class, and part of a larger efort to unify
islamic brigades in the south and ally them with groups
in the north.
53
To this end, troops in the south are being
trained by commanders from the north. The division
Opposition Elements Involved
Jabhat Nusra
Syrian Liberation Front
Tafanaz
Idlib Military Council
(Suquor al-Sham)
Wadi al-Deif
Maarr Shamshah
Heesh
To Hama

Maarrat al-Numan
To Aleppo

Wadi al-Deif Airbase sits along the


primary highway that connects Aleppo
to Hama City.
In mid-October 2012 the airbase came
under siege by the Opposition. is
operation is still ongoing. Beginning in
February 2013, a council of religious
clerics led by Jabhat Nusra took
organizational lead for operations.
e council has brought dozens of
groups from across Idlib province to
participate in operations at Wadi al-Deif,
including the SMC-aliated Idlib
Military Council and Suqour al-Sham.
Four operations rooms with seven
personnel each have been established to
coordinate this operation. Each
operations room oversees between
30-40 baalions.
is aack demonstrates coordination
among coalitions and Jabhat Nusra prior
to the establishment of the Northern
Front command. e operational
symbols on this map approximate literal
operational movements.
mAP 3 | THE BATTlE fOR wAdI Al-dEIf
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In Aleppo, the SMC has also had a signifcant impact
on the overall efectiveness of rebel operations. For
months, rebels have been concentrating eforts on
airbases with limited success. During a meeting between
northern front commanders and others from the SmC,
in which the current state of operations was discussed, it
was agreed that the best way to overrun crucial airbases
in Aleppo would be frst to take control of the security
complex tasked with their physical security. These
commanders worked together to devise detailed plans
for an operation against the regimes 80
th
regiment
headquarters, known as Base 80.
56
This facility was
responsible for the security of nayrab military airbase,
which shares a facility with aleppo international
Airport. These plans included specifc tactical training
of rebel units and multiple surveillance missions prior
to the operation, suggesting a much more organized and
efective approach being undertaken by rebels.
57
Thanks
in part to weapons acquired by the arms committee
of the SmC, rebels successfully overran the base and
captured a large stockpile of ammunition.
58
This was
the second Syrian military installation to fall within two
days, with rebels taking control of al-Jarrah airbase the
day before.
59

The SmC has also provided greater transparency, so that
rebel groups are more aware of who is in charge of which
sectors in each geographical area. it has also extended
its command and control by combining independent
operations rooms and holding weekly meetings for
brigades. Ultimately, even if the SmC only serves as a
mechanism for greater cooperation and coordination,
it represents a signifcant development because it has
united the eforts of rebel commanders across Syria. It
mAP 4 | OPPOsITIOn cAmPAIgn UPdATE
TURKEY
IQ
JORDAN
L
E
B
A
N
O
N
LEGEND
Fixed-Wing Airbase
Rotary-Wing Airbase
Overrun
Under Siege
Minakh
Taftanaz
Abu Duhur
Taqba
Jarah
Rasin el Aboud / Kerweis
Aleppo Intl / Nayrab
Deir ez-Zor
Hamadan
Palmyra
Hama
al Qusayr
Basil al-Assad Intl
Shayrat
Tiyas
Nasariyah
Saiqal
Dumayr
Suwayda
Khalkalakh
Marj Ruhayyil / Baly
Mazzeh
Damascus Intl
Qabr al-Sitt
Marj e-Sultan
Latakia
Tartous
Homs
Hama
Aleppo
Idlib
Al Raqqah
Damascus
As Suwayda
Deraa
Deir ez-Zor
Hasakah
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they have been criticized by civilian commanders for
their inability to develop efective tactics and operations
given current ground conditions and limited resources.
Thus, defectors play an important role in helping to
create an institutional framework, but they are less
infuential in the planning and coordination of specifc
tactical operations.
60

Operations and Tactics
Gen. idriss has publicly stated that SmC components are
helping to direct every battle, citing close cooperation
between the battalions carrying out the operations and
the SmC Operations room located inside Syria. as part
of overseeing operations on the ground, idriss and his
deputy abdel Karim describe a two-phase plan beginning
with the war for the airports followed by the war for
artillery and missiles.
61
These sequenced concepts of
operation highlight the areas that the rebels identify as
the regimes centers of gravity: its air power and weapons
superiority. By targeting the infrastructure of these
centers of gravity, rebel commanders are attempting to
conduct shaping operations that will ground the Syrian
air force and limit the regimes weapon capabilities.
achieving these two goals, in turn, will create the
conditions enabling their success in the fnal battle for
Damascus, according to SmC leaders.
This plan reveals a sophisticated operational design
based on the SMCs identifcation of what will be the
is the frst attempt at unity that incorporates important
commanders from all Syrian provinces and has enough
legitimacy on the ground to even begin the process of
building a structure capable of providing a national-level
chain of command. as the SmC develops its institutional
capacity, whether it will assert greater authority will likely
depend on its ability to distribute critical resources to
rebel-held communities.
Overcoming the Internal External Divide
The most signifcant diference between the SMC and
previous organizations is that its leadership is composed
entirely of rebel commanders from inside Syria. Unlike
previous organizations that sought to incorporate
feld commanders but vested fnal authority in the
external leadership body, the SmCs authority is based
on the power and infuence of the feld commanders.
A concerted efort was made to include all of Syrias
most important feld commanders, and to create an
organization that was based on the leadership of Syrias
current armed units.
With few exceptions, each member of the SmC, including
representatives and deputies, is the commander of
signifcant forces on the ground, and all are widely
respected for their role in leading operations against the
regime. Important feld commander who are now part of
the SmC include: abdel Qadir Salah, head of the Tawhid
Brigade in aleppo; mustafa abdel Karim, head of the
Shield of the revolution Brigade; ahmed issa, head of
Suqour al-Sham Brigade in Idlib; Jamal Marouf, head
of the Syrian martyrs Brigade in idlib; Osama al-Jinidi,
head of the Farouq Battalions; and Gen. Ziad al-Fahd,
head of the Damascus military Council.
authority within the council is not based on former rank,
and there is no internal hierarchy comprised of defectors
and civilians. instead, authority is based on each members
operational efectiveness and the amount of forces he
controls. in the few exceptions where members are not
in command of ground forces, such as faraj hammoud
al-Faraj with the Eastern Front, they retain infuence as
important distributors who provide access to resources
and supplies to rebel-held communities. in many cases,
access to resources has helped boost the authority of
civilian commanders within the SmC, creating parity
in power between civilian commanders and defecting
ofcers. While defectors are valued for their experience
and bring important institutional memory in helping to
fashion the SmC into a functioning ministry of Defense,
PHOTO 6 | sOc sEcRETARy gEnERAl mUsTAfA sABBAgH
SOC Syrian Opposition Coalition
SNC Syrian National Council
FSA Free Syrian Army
SMC Supreme Military Command
SLF Syrian Liberation Front
SIF Syrian Islamist Front
CHART 2 | Opposition Key Terms|
p. ##?
Picture of Miqdad and Sakr
p. 9

Note: Please provide
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The recent rebel ofensive in Damascus is diferent
from the others. it does not appear to be designed to
hold territory, but to keep assad on his back foot. The
rebels have taken positions, withdrawn, and hit other
positions, a strategy that appears to be working. Prior to
this ofensive, the front lines of battle in Damascus were
in Daraya. now, it appears that assad may be abandoning
his fght there to concentrate on holding the eastern
districts of the capital.
it is important to note that recent successes are not a
direct result of the operational control of the SmC, and
there is little evidence to show that the SmC has played
an organizational role in these operations. however,
these successes are attributable to enhanced cooperation
among rebel commanders that has been made possible
through SmC channels. in this way, the SmC has proven
to be an important mechanism for greater cooperation.
It has brought together feld commanders from all across
Syria and provided an unprecedented structure for
coordination.
most decisive battle in their campaign combined with
an understanding of what operations are needed to set
conditions for the decisive efort. Connecting current
tactical successes through this operational level of war
will be critical in achieving the strategic objective of
assads defeat. Coordination at the operational level is
where the SmC will be able to achieve the greatest impact
on rebel efectiveness.
Unlike previous ofensives that tended to be disorganized
and poorly coordinated by a few geographically-linked
brigades, recent rebel ofensives have demonstrated a
high-level of planning and coordination. in clearing
well-defended regime positions in aleppo province,
idlib province, and Deir ez-zour, rebels were able to
concentrate adequate forces, coordinate their actions,
bring heavy weapons to bear, and sustain operations while
under regime air attack.
62
This demonstrates a marked
improvement in their operational performance, and
suggests that rebels are overcoming their organizational
limitations.
Taanaz Airbase sits along the
secondary highway that connects
Idlib City to Aleppo.
On January 11, 2013, the airbase
was overrun by the Opposition,
disrupting this vital line of
communication.
ree factions took part in the
siege: Jabhat Nusra, the Syrian
Islamic Front (Ahrar al-Sham,
Jamaat al-Taliah al-Islamiyah,
and Harakat al-Fajr al-Islamiyah)
and the Syrian Liberation Front
(Liwa Dawoud of Suqor
al-Sham, and the Farouq
Baalions).
e operational symbols on this
map do not indicate literal
operational movements.
Opposition Elements Involved
Jabhat Nusra
Syrian Islamic Front
Syrian Liberation Front
Idlib
Tafanaz
mAP 5 | THE BATTlE fOR TAfTnATAz
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The SMCs Relationship to the Syrian Opposition Coalition
The SMC is ofcially operating on behalf of the Syrian
Opposition Coalition, and its establishment is consistent
with the Doha agreement. Both Gen. idriss and Syrian
Opposition Coalition (SOC) President moaz al-Khatib
have commented on the close relationship between
SOC and the SmC, and the two co-signed a document
determining that the organizations objective was the
fall of the regime and the dismantling of the security
apparatuses.
63
That the two organizations maintain
close relations is important to the SmC because of its
intention to serve as a Defense ministry for a transitional
government, as well as its hope that it will receive better
support and resources by cultivating its relationship
with the internationally recognized coalition. To this
end, SOC has supported the work of the SmC by
conducting outreach with foreign ofcials on behalf of
the organization and attempting to funnel more military
aid to the SmC. at the end of february 2013, Secretary of
State John Kerry announced that the US would provide
non-lethal support to the SmC, via the Coalition. Thus,
the relationship has produced material aid to the SmC,
although this aid falls short of the desired weapons and
arms capability requested.
64

The relationship between the two organizations is largely
derived from the personal bond between SOC Secretary
General mustafa Sabbagh and Gen. idriss, and the two
are in frequent communication with one another often
attending meetings side by side. Sabbagh is a former
Syrian national Council (SnC) member. although he
was listed as an independent member of the SnC,
Sabbagh has deep ties to the muslim Brotherhood. as part
of the SnCs military bureau, he was reportedly one of
the most important distributors of muslim Brotherhood
funding to the Syrian opposition during the early stages
of the confict.
65
This causes some concern among SmC
members who distrust both the muslim Brotherhood
and the SnCs continued role within SOC.
Thanks to a successful regime propaganda campaign, the
muslim Brotherhood is widely resented on the ground
for its role in the hama massacre in 1982, and many
Syrians distrust the organization.
66
This has fed into
criticism of the SnC for being too closely allied with
the muslim Brotherhood. moreover, rebel commanders
have denounced the exiled coalition for being too far
removed from the battles fought on the ground.
67

This negative view of the SnC and the muslim
Brotherhood has meant that the majority of SmC
members prefer to keep their power structures and
resource channels removed from the coalition. Thus,
although ofcially operating within SOCs framework,
rebel commanders are quick to point out that the Supreme
military Command functions on its own authority and
as an independent body.
68

moreover, warm relations between the two organizations
are thwarted by the SmCs criticism of the Coalition for
failing to create a transitional government. Gen. idriss
has repeatedly discussed the importance of a transitional
government in relieving the pressure from the military
councils and rebel groups who are currently responsible
for administering rebel-held areas.
69
he often complains
that rebel forces are unable to concentrate on operations
and efectively consolidate due to governance concerns
that are the responsibility of the SOC.
Rebels have had to take on civic roles, including eforts to
restore electricity supplies and deal with bread shortages.
This has reduced the rebels operational capacity, resulting
in operational pauses as rebels reach their thresholds of
advance. Because the armed opposition does not have
the capacity to provide services and basic necessities to
rebel-held communities, the local populations often
turn on the rebels. This is a crucial consideration in the
formulation of plans for operations in key cities such
as aleppo and Damascus. Without the support of local
communities, rebels will continue to struggle in taking
urban centers.
REBEl OPERATIOns On EAcH fROnT
North
Operations in the northern provinces of idlib and aleppo
have moved away from trying to gain territory in major
urban centers and instead have focused on degrading the
regimes air power by targeting air bases. The capture of
Taftanaz military airport in idlib province on January
11, 2013 through the combined eforts of multiple rebel
units has been the largest air base captured by the rebel
opposition, and perceived by many to be an indication
of newfound strategic capabilities.
70
although some
reports denied a SMC role in the ofensive, Gen. Idriss
was involved in planning operations and a number of
SmC component units participated in the Taftanaz
campaign, including the Farouq battalions.
71

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Since January 2013, the armed opposition has continued
applying pressure to the minakh, nayrab, and Kweris
military airports in aleppo province, recently capturing
the al-Jarra airbase and Base 80, which allowed for the
expansion of operations against nayrab and aleppo
international airport.
72
Besides targeting air bases,
coordinated attacks have also been renewed against the
strategic Wadi al-Deif military base located near marret
numan, idlib province. Operations against the military
base have been undertaken to various degrees since
October of last year, but the coordination implemented
by Jabhat nusra in cooperation with the Syrian islamic
front and SmC sub-units represents a previously
untried approach.
73
SmC cooperation with Jabhat nusra
and other extremist groups in Syria will be addressed in-
depth at a later point.
East
Jabhat nusra has largely spearheaded operations in the
eastern front including the capture of the al-Thawra
hydroelectric dam, Syrias largest. The capture of al-
Thawra brings the total number of dams in opposition
possession to three: al-Thawra, al-Raqqa province;
Baath dam, al-Raqqa province, and Tishrin, Aleppo
province.
74
While these victories have given signifcant
leverage to Jabhat nusra, other rebel units have been
conducting strikes against the regimes energy sector in
the east, expelling government forces from two oilfelds
and a gas feld by early December 2012.
75
On november
22, 2012, the opposition was able further to consolidate
their control over the countryside in Deir ez-zour by
capturing the key artillery base in the area, mayadeen.
76

Since then, they have concentrated their attention on
capturing Deir ez-zour city, placing the Deir ez-zour
military airport under siege for months, pressuring the
133
th
brigade headquarters, and pushing into the Ommal
and matar Qadima neighborhoods.
77

In early March 2013, rebels successfully overran al-Raqqa
city. This is signifcant because it is the frst provincial
capital to fall into rebel hands, and represents the frst
successful attempt by rebels to fully capture an urban
center.
78
mAP 6 | THE BATTlE fOR dAmAscUs
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to break through government lines in the north and west
to loosen the months-long siege on their strongholds
in the center of Homs, despite coming under ferce
aerial bombardment. in a calculated operation, rebel
groups based in the nearby provinces of homs and idlib
advanced from the north while brigades from rural homs
attacked government positions in the southwestern
district of Baba amr. Several roadblocks in the district
fell to rebel fghters and dozens of regime troops were
forced to fee to the regime-held neighborhood of Jobar.
The regime responded by attacking the remaining rebel
strongholds of Khalidya and al-Qusour in northern
Homs city in an attempt to repel the rebel ofensive.
87

Heavy fghting between the two sides was ongoing at the
time of publication of this report.
South
rebel gains in eastern Damascus, notably the capture
of the marj al-Sultan military airport on november
25, 2012, have forced the regime to cede territory on
the peripheries of the city and concentrate their forces
along the military strongholds and alawi-majority
neighborhoods located in the north and west.
88
a map
recovered on the same day from a Syrian republican Guard
soldier and distributed through social media confrmed
these positions, and listed Daraya (southwest), Aqraba
(south), and Barzeh (northeast) as neighborhoods under
contention between the regime and the opposition.
89

Heavy fghting and aerial bombardment throughout the
city and the surrounding region persisted, with activists
reporting regime reinforcements periodically sent into
the strategic southwestern neighborhoods of Daraya and
mouadamiyah.
90

Violence in Damascus has recently escalated, to levels
some activists compare to the July 2012 ofensive for
control of the city.
91
The new push is a coordinated
efort among six rebel groups led by Jabhat Nusra, who
have dubbed the efort Operation Epic in the capital of
the Omayyads, and the free Syrian army. fighting and
regime airstrikes have been fercest in Jobar, Zamalka, al-
zablatani, Qaboun, and the Damascus ring road.
92
The
rebels, who were able to briefy close the major highway
running from Damascus to the north, say, This is not
the battle for Damascus. This battle is to prepare for the
entry into Damascus.
93
Central/West
in the west, rebel forces are solidifying positions in Jabal
al-akrad and Jabal al-Turkman. as a result, the local
Alawi population has fed in force to Tartus, Latakia,
and the alawi mountains, often leaving entire villages
abandoned.
79
The Syrian army still controls the sky,
however, and it has maintained a steady bombardment
of the rebel-held region.
80
rebel commanders on the
ground say they are preparing for a major invasion of
Latakia once aleppo has been taken and supply lines
secured, and they will be able to draw on roughly 10,000
fghters from Jabal al-Akrad and Jabal al-Turkman.
81

in December 2012, the opposition carried out a number
of operations against regime and alawite strongholds in
hama province, capturing halfaya and parts of morek.
82

The regime responded by launching a counter-ofensive,
retaking some important checkpoints along the main
aleppo-to-Damascus highway, and putting the rebels
on the defensive. This forced rebel groups to re-allocate
troops and resources from other operations in the north
in order to maintain their control of strategic points
along the highway. Thanks in part to enhanced weaponry
that surfaced in the hands of SMC-afliated units in
early february 2013, the rebels successfully repelled a
number of regime attacks, quickly recovering from losses
that occurred during the regime ofensive, and they have
once again put the regime on the defensive.
83

Homs
rebel operations in the homs front have been
comparatively limited since the regimes brutal shelling
campaign of february and march 2012 forced rebels to
withdraw from homs city. Since then, the regime has
concentrated its eforts to control Homs city and the
strategic route from Damascus to the coast. following
a small uptick in clashes initiated by rebel groups in
the area during mid-January 2013, the regime sent
reinforcements to the city.
84
from that time, the regime
has been carrying out a steady bombardment campaign
against the city, while also moving against rastan and
capturing Jobar and Kafraya.
85
Shabiha, pro-regime
militiamen, accompanied the regime troops to the
province, and are believed to be behind the massacre of
over 100 civilians in Basatin al-hasiya on January 17,
2013.
86
Beginning in early march 2013, rebels launched a major
ofensive to retake parts of Homs city. Rebels managed
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separate from the personal legitimacy of its members,
will be as crucial to the councils ability to create the
institutional basis for a Defense ministry as its real
structure and organizational function.
Overall, the SmC has had limited success in establishing
a chain of command. The organizational divergence
of military hierarchies and local networks has limited
the ability of a central leadership body to consolidate a
unifed armed opposition force. In this way, the SMC
has been able to serve as an important platform for
mutual cooperation and coordination, but beyond that
it has struggled to assert greater authority. This challenge
arises partly because the SmC has given its components
few incentives to subsume their existing networks under
the SmCs nascent hierarchy. Until greater external
support for the SmC materializes, these units are not
likely to cede military authority to the SmC, preferring
to retain the operational prerogative that comes with
independent sources of fnancing.
Command structures based on networks rather than
hierarchies allow the creation of a vacuum of agreed-
upon standards. Without agreed-upon principles that
can be pushed down an established chain of command,
individual commanders tend to create codes of conduct
unique to those under their direct authority and are
then responsible for ensuring adherence.
95
This vacuum
has resulted in conditions that have been conducive to
looting and have led to popular perceptions of rebel
commanders as warlords. Signifcant portions of the
population have thus been alienated from the rebels, a
condition which has in turn limited their ability to fght
in urban centers. in order to be seen as a professional
military command, the SmC must have the ability to
police itself to ensure that this type of behavior is not
condoned within its ranks. This includes the capacity
AddREssIng lImITATIOns And fUTURE
OBsTAclEs
The SMC has made a concerted efort to bring armed
revolutionary groups under the umbrella of a controlled
military command by building strong links with the
localized battalions and franchise brigades and creating
a platform for the development of a countrywide
military strategy. it has also taken a number of steps to
marginalize extremist groups by ensuring that all fSa
battalions uphold the Geneva Convention, imposing
strict age requirements for new recruits, and cutting of
units that break the rules from receiving lethal and non-
lethal support.
94
Yet despite the signifcant progress
the SmC has made, there remain a number of critical
obstacles ahead. Overcoming them will be difcult and
pose a challenge to creating a strong military institution
and professional armed force in the new Syria.
Converting Networks to Military Hierarchies
The majority of rebels still identify with individual
leaders, rather than with unit names or military
councils. Personal networks remain the key determinant
in alliances and loyalties. resource allocation and
ideological afliation weigh in as distant, secondary
factors. Thus, the SmC has relied on the personal
reputation of individual commanders for legitimacy that
is derived from the bottom up, rather than top down.
The SmC has no institutional legitimacy that is separate
from the legitimacy of the commanders associated with
the command. although the SmC has been successful
in incorporating important fgures and their personal
networks, it nevertheless faces a signifcant challenge in
building a sense of national identity that can transcend
personal relationships and ensure long-term loyalty to
the Command. Building up its institutional legitimacy,
fIgURE 3 | gROUPs AffIlIATEd wITH THE syRIAn lIBERATIOn fROnT sOURcE: sIf fAcEBOOk PAgE
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These two factors have created a discrepancy in power
structures between northern and southern rebel groups.
not only are northern rebel groups larger, better
organized, and tactically more efective, but they also
have control over the supply lines running from Turkey.
as a result, rebel commanders in the north have more
authority and infuence within the Supreme Military
Command than do their counterparts in the south.
99

Some commanders are concerned by the polarity of forces
in the north and the south, particularly given that their
main focus remains on the fnal battle for Damascus.
Whether this cleavage will afect resource allocation and
the direction of future operations remains to be seen.
Incorporating Independent Units
The SmCs initial success has derived from accounting
for the armed oppositions two diverging trends: the
localized battalions associated with the free Syrian
army, and the larger independent franchise brigades
and their alliances. The SmC has incorporated the
structure of the Joint Command and the leadership of
the military Councils, while also including commanders
from the largest and most powerful independent
franchise brigades, including the Al-Farouq Battalions
in Homs, the Suqour al-Sham Brigade in Idlib, and
the Tawhid Brigade in aleppo. This has meant that the
SmC includes a broader spectrum of opposition forces
than previous organizations, and it encompasses a wider
range of individual actors and ideologies.
although the SmC has been careful to repudiate the most
extremist elements of the Syrian opposition, especially
the foreign Terrorist Organization-designated Jabhat
nusra, it has attempted to incorporate ideologically
diverse groups and shown a willingness to work with
commanders of all ideological afliations, bringing
together secular, Islamist, and Salafst commanders.
inclusion of independent ideological brigades is
an important part of the SmCs ability to serve as a
mechanism of national-level authority and implement
command and control over the disparate armed
opposition forces.
however, these groups participation in the SmC
raises the question of radicalization within the Syrian
opposition. Specifcally, the SMC has included members
from both the Syrian Liberation front and the Syrian
Islamic Front and has worked with the Salaf-jihadi
group ahrar al-Sham, causing concern among its
international patrons, particularly western allies looking
to establish a iform code of military justice and punish
subordinate units that violate it.
Overcoming the North South Divide
although the opening of the Turkish border in summer
2012 helped to connect the armed oppositions external
leadership with feld commanders inside Syria, it created
a schism between rebel groups operating in the north
and those operating in the south. By gaining control of
critical border crossings in the north, the rebels there
could more easily bring in fghters, weapons, fuel, and
other logistical support into northern Syria. rebel
commanders noted that Turkish ofcials were more
willing to deal with them once they had established a de
facto liberated territory, which gave them greater local
authority.
96

The ability to cross the Turkish border freely and move
among villages without fear of encountering regime forces
resulted in a dramatic change in rebel capability in the
north. northern rebel groups became much stronger than
their counterparts in the south. Their ranks swelled, they
had access to functioning supply lines, and they had the
space to maneuver in ways that were impossible for those
operating in the south. Commenting on the diferent
conditions of rebels operating in the north and those
in the south, ahmed Kaialy, a rebel who has fought in
Aleppo and Damascus, stated In Damascus, it is difcult
to get guns and supplies, but in aleppo, it is easy.
97

This schism is compounded by the fact that extremist
groups have been the most efective at operating under
conditions in the south. Because of their secretive nature
and highly-organized, hierarchical network, Salaf-
jihadist groups like Jabhat nusra have dominated rebel
operations in the south. While extremist groups as a
whole are often better resourced and have better tactical
knowledge than other rebel groups throughout Syria, the
divide between moderate and extremist groups is much
more signifcant in the south.
98
Other than the Salaf-
jihadist units in the south, few of the larger franchise
brigades operate in the vicinity. most rebel units tend to
be highly localized and oriented on the self-defense of
their communities, rather than on ofensive operations
against the regime. Consequently, moderate forces are
under-developed in and around Damascus, because they
lack the organization and resources to compete with the
Salafst-jihadist groups.
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of Syria under an islamic caliphate.
105
moreover, unlike
the SLf, which functions more as an alliance than as a
unifed leadership command, SIF sub-units have begun
merging forces and leadership structures under a more
hierarchical chain of command.
among the Sifs most notable rebel units are the ahrar
al-Sham Battalions, the al-Haqq Brigade in Homs, and
harakat al-fajr al-islamiyya in aleppo. although the
Sifs leadership structure has not been incorporated
into the SmC as fully as that of the SLf, important
individual leaders within the Sif are members of the
SmC, including abdel rahman Soess, head of the al-
Haqq Brigade in Homs. Moreover, SIF sub-units have
important ties and connections to battalions and brigades
associated with the SmC. This has allowed for a low-level
of incorporation of the Sif into the SmC, and it paves
the way for cooperation between the two structures with
the SmC goal of eventually incorporating Sif leadership
wholly within its framework.
Despite not being ofcially represented on the SMC,
members of ahrar al-Sham attended the antalya
conference and were party to discussions over the
councils creation. ahrar al-Sham units have also sent
advisors and representatives to subsequent council
meetings, and SMC commanders confrmed that Ahrar
al-Sham has been cooperating on the ground with units
associated with the SmC, particularly in the provinces
of homs and aleppo, where ahrar al-Sham units
have prior relationships with formerly independent
organizations and leaders such as the northern front
Deputy Chief of Staf Colonel Abdel Basset al-Tawil.
106

Consequently, it is not surprising that recent rumors
suggest that ahrar al-Sham is looking to join the SmC
in an ofcial capacity.
107
There is no question that Islamist forces have earned
much respect from Syrians, and that they are likely to play
a signifcant role in Syrias future government. Thus, it
is important for the SmCs legitimacy and credibility to
include such forces. So far, the SmC has recognized the
importance of their inclusion, while drawing a red line
at the inclusion of forces that seek the destruction of a
Syrian state.
The SMCs ties to Islamist and Salafst forces inside
of Syria do warrant some concern, however. The fSa
leadership, as a potential national-level authority, has
long been recognized for its nationalistic character
and adherence to a secular, pluralistic vision for a
for a platform through which they can provide greater
support to the opposition.
Originally called the islamic front to Liberate Syria, the
Syrian Liberation front (SLf) was founded in September
2012 as a coalition of around twenty islamist units.
The coalition is headed by Sheikh ahmed issa, and its
most important units include the previously mentioned
Suqour al-Sham Brigade, the Farouq Battalions, and
the Tawhid Brigade; as well as the islam Brigade and the
Deir ez-zour revolutionary Council.
100
Shortly after the
formation of the Syrian Liberation front, ahmed issa
released a statement announcing that the group aimed
to maintain brotherly relations with the fSa but refused
to ofer full support to FSA leadership that remained in
Turkey.
101

That the Syrian Liberation front saw the external
leadership cadres as the most signifcant problem for
the fSa demonstrates why overcoming the external-
internal leadership divide is so critical for the SmC. for
the SmC, inclusion of SLf units is critical because they
are the largest alliance operating in Syria and account
for a majority of forces on the ground. The SLf also
ofers a collection of charismatic, publicly-recognized
leaders who lend greater legitimacy to the organizations
afliated with them.
102
Without their participation, the
SmC would be forced to compete with SLf units for
power and infuence a competition that it would likely
lose.
To date, the SLf has viewed the SmC as a credible
internal leadership body, and its leadership structure
has been almost entirely incorporated into the SmC
with Ahmed Issa of Suqour al-Sham, Abdel Qadir Salah
of Tawhid, and Osama al-Jinidi of Farouq all serving on
the council.
although many analysts have expressed their concern
towards the SLf for its emphasis on islamic identity
and adherence to islamic law, the organization lacks a
defned ideology or political platform. In fact, the SLF is
perceived on the ground to be relatively moderate, with
most of the more hard-line Islamist and Salafst groups
choosing to join the Syrian islamist front instead.
103
The
Syrian islamist front (Sif) was announced on December
21, 2012 in a video statement read out by the groups
ofcial spokesman Abu Abdel Rahman al-Suri.
104
They
adhere to a fairly dogmatic Salafst ideology, insisting on a
theocratic state ruled by a shura council. They are Syrian
nationalists, however, and do not call for the unifcation
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an islamic caliphate and abide by the current borders
established under the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement.
109

in an analysis of the white paper, Cole Bunzel discusses
the growing rift between Jabhat nusra and Sif over
competing views on the Syrian state versus an islamic
caliphate as well as participation in political processes.
Jabhat nusra members reject democratic political
processes as illegitimate and seek the establishment of
an islamic caliphate. On the other hand, Sif members
largely believe in the integrity of a Syrian state and are
willing to participate in some democratic processes
including elections. Bunzel notes the soft position
of Sif, saying, Thats just the kind of soft stance that
JN [Jabhat Nusra] jihadists and the authors of the
Shumukh strategy seem intent on opposing.
110
This
sentiment was confrmed by a group of Ahrar al-Sham
fghters who reportedly clashed with a Jabhat Nusra
battalion in aleppo after being called too weak for
their sympathy towards the Syrian state.
111
This reveals
that even among the more radical groups in Syria they
continue to exhibit nationalist sentiment and prefer
some form of democratic processes, however limited.
in discussing the merits of inclusion versus exclusion
of more radical forces within the SmC, the importance
of unity among all rebel groups should take precedence.
President assad is likely counting on collapsing the
attempts at a unifed rebel strategy through the brutality
of his forces and the cost of battle. Once that happens, he
likely expects rebel ranks to fragment and more radical
elements, like Jabhat nusra, to come to the fore. at that
point he would be in a position to market himself as the
sole guarantor against terrorism and chaos. Infghting
among rebel units only benefts Assads strategy. Unity,
regardless of ideological afliation, will be important to
defeating the regime and ensuring stability in a post-
assad Syria.
future Syria. However, with the infuence of the more
religiously conservative forces now serving on the SmC,
some fear that a moderate, pluralistic future for Syria is
endangered. This begs the question of whether the SMC,
as a democratic institution, is capable of incorporating
hostile religious actors, and if so, what will be the long-
term political efects of inclusion on the SMC and its
sub-units.
although the threat of extremism should not be
underestimated, the SmC has the potential to serve as a
moderating authority among radicalized factions fghting
on the ground. The impetus for de-radicalization is
largely structured by strategic calculations and political
opportunities. if the SmC can create enough incentives
for moderation, it will likely be able to marginalize the
most radical elements within its structure. To this end, the
SmC has recognized the importance of the inclusion of
some of the more radical forces, while still drawing a red
line at the inclusion of forces that seek the destruction of
a Syrian state, such as jihadist groups like Jabhat nusra.
The case of the detained Un peacekeepers mentioned
previously is an example of the positive infuence that
the SmC can have over more radical groups.
Some of the more religiously conservative groups also
recognize the danger posed by these jihadist groups,
creating a potential opportunity for the SmC. recent
infghting between some of the more Salafst rebel units
and Jabhat nusra is a positive sign of the rebels desire
to check jihadist ambitions in Syria. in early february
2012, clashes broke out between Tawhid Brigade
sub-units and Jabhat nusra battalions, with Tawhid
attempting to establish its authority over that of Jabhat
nusra. many aleppan rebels expressed concerns that
Jabhat nusra is following a foreign agenda and has its
own goals that are not aligned with the fall of the regime.
further clashes between Tawhid and Jabhat nusra have
centered on growing tension over the Kurdish issue,
with commanders angry at Jabhat nusra for diverting
resources to fght Kurdish units rather than the regime,
and over the distribution of humanitarian aid.
108

a schism has also emerged between Jabhat nusra and
its most reliable ally, the Syrian islamic front. Despite
adhering to a more radical interpretation of islamic
law, many within Sifs ranks support some type of
democratic governance. in a whitepaper posted on the
Shumukh al-Islam jihadi forum on the struggle in Syria,
the Shumukh strategists warn of the dangers of allying
with secularist-islamists who oppose the creation of
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ground being that extremist groups are better funded.
Thanks to generous support from private sources in
Saudi arabia and other Persian Gulf states, extremist
forces, particularly Jabhat nusra, are often better
armed than secular forces, which have been deprived
of resources by Western reluctance to permit lethal aid.
Overcoming this defcit will be difcult for the SMC, and
it will require a concerted efort from the international
community. The recent announcement that the U.S. will
provide non-lethal aid to the SmC, including training
assistance, is a positive sign for the SmC.
114
Whether such
limited support will be enough to empower the SmC is
uncertain, especially since it falls short of providing the
much-demanded weapons and arms seen as necessary to
defeating the assad regime.
Saudi arabia and Qatar have reportedly decided to funnel
their support through the SmC as part of an agreement
between the two patrons to merge their proxy structures
into one organization. although private sources of
funding will likely continue outside the parameters of the
SmC, uniting the support channels of rebels main state
sponsors will be fundamental to ensuring the legitimacy
of the new organization.
Despite the agreement between the two backers, SmC
members have complained that they have not received
the support that they were promised. These members
stated that weapon fows to rebels are drying up.
115

One commander commentated that the streams of
weapons that once poured into northern Syria are now
only trickling.
116
it is generally perceived that the U.S.
and its western allies have put pressure on distributors
to halt the fow of weapons due to the recent designation
of Jabhat nusra as a foreign Terrorist Organization and
growing fears of radical forces within the opposition.
117

The ability to provide resources and material support
to its sub-units is the determining factor in whether
or not the SmC will be able to unite rebel forces under
Ultimately, whether the SmC is able to establish a level of
authority of the more radical elements, or if the radical
elements end up overpowering the more moderate
forces, remains to be seen. Part of the SmCs ability to
establish a level of authority over these groups will be
dependent on the SmCs access to resources and ability
to distribute goods and provide services to rebel-held
communities.
Financing and Access to Resources
Creating a central channel for funds and arms to rebel
groups goes hand-in-hand with creating a centralized
leadership. To date, disparate sources of funding have
signifcantly handicapped the rebels ability to unite
and consolidate authority on a national level. Previous
attempts to create a centralized military command were
stymied by backers going through personal contacts,
picking favorites, and stirring rivalry and jealousy among
the rebels. Consequently, rebels adopted the common
practice of associating with more than one organization
in order to diversify access to funding.
112
in other cases,
entirely new organizations were created solely for the
purpose of receiving money and weapons.
The case of the november 2012 Doha meeting provides a
stark example of how diverse funding streams exacerbate
the problem of fragmentation among rebels. On the one
hand, rebel commanders were paid by Qatari sponsors to
attend the meeting. On the other hand, Saudi sponsors
paid rebel commanders not to attend the meeting. Thus,
in order to receive funds from both sponsors, rebel
organizations nominally split, sending one commander
to Doha with the other staying in Syria. although united
under the same leadership structures, commanders
claimed to be associated with diferent rebel groups and
often professed afliation to rival units.
113

moreover, current streams of funding tend to empower
more radical forces, with the common perception on the
PHOTO 8 | RBg6 gREnAdE lAUncHER In HAmA
PHOTO 9 | cOlOnEl AqIdI REcEIvEs wEAPOns
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regimes lines of communication and supply between its
stronghold cities are being seriously threatened. rebel
forces have seized chokeholds on the routes that link
the strongholds of the regime to the active battlefelds
of northern and eastern Syria. These chokepoints are
the fulcrum upon which the fortunes of idlib, aleppo,
al-Raqqa and Deir ez-Zour Provinces will be decided.
in order to capitalize on these successes and successfully
advance on the urban centers they surround, the rebels
will need to distribute enhanced weapons capability to
those actively fghting in these battles.
it is unlikely a coincidence that newly smuggled weapons
from the former yugoslavia ended up in the hands of a
member of the SmC arms committee and that similar
fows of weapons seem to be going to groups aligned
with the SmC.
124
This suggests that the SmC is at least
partially serving as a channel for the distribution of
funding and weapons. it also represents a deliberate
efort to place more advanced weapons into the hands of
more moderate forces, rather than extremists. if there is
indeed a new, organized, and well-funded efort behind
the SmC, it could help to empower more moderate rebel
forces.
nevertheless, in order to shift the military campaign
in their favor, rebel forces will need to acquire the
necessary resources to break the current stalemate.
advanced anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons, as well
as secure communications equipment and intelligence
support, are a prerequisite for rebel success in Syrias
cities where regime forces have consolidated and can
carry out airstrikes against rebel forces without fear of
retaliation. The SmCs legitimacy will depend on its
ability to access these resources and distribute them to
its sub-units in ways that sufciently balance resources
and assets without creating internal rivalries. however,
the SMCs eforts to unify will be futile if its backers,
especially Qatar and Saudi arabia, decide to work
outside the SmC.
Outside of direct funding and weapons shipments, Gen.
Idriss has formally requested U.S. help in training elite
rebel units. in a letter dated february 4, 2013, Gen.
idriss seeks U.S. assistance in training for: (1) special
operations; (2) international humanitarian law; and
(3) in chemical weapons security. He also requested
various supplies for these elite units, including: (1)
combat armor; (2) night vision goggles; (3) hand held
monocular and longer range spotting equipment; (4)
strategic communications; (5) winterization packs;
its command and establish a level of command and
control. in commenting on the SmCs ability to serve
as a centralized command, the commander of a military
battalion in northern idlib province, ahmed al-Qanatri,
stated, The structure is good, but all on the condition
that we get something.
118
The fact that the SmC has so far
failed to provide weapons and resources to its sub-units
has caused some of the commanders to question their
relationship with the SmC. This is also partly the reason
that rebel units continue to prioritize their brigade or
battalion names and prefer to identify with their former
alliances rather than with the SmC.
yet complaints over the lack of weapons contradict
reports that rebels have recently received a substantial
boost in the form of heavy weapons. recent youTube
footage suggests that rebels are receiving better quality
arms, including anti-tank weaponry, rocket launchers,
and more powerful rifes.
119
Specifcally, rebels have
begun receiving signifcantly better weapons starting in
early february 2013 through the Jordanian border in the
southern province of Deraa. The weapons, which include
rPG-22 rocket launchers, m79 Osa rocket launchers,
M60 recoilless rifes, and Milkor MGL/RBG-6 grenade
launchers, were all designed, manufactured, and used
in the former yugoslavia, and none of them are part
of the Syrian military arsenal.
120
This infux of new
foreign weapons helped spark a series of surprise attacks
capturing several towns, border crossings, and roads in
Deraa province. These weapons have also been linked to
the ofensive in Damascus, and reports suggest that they
are playing a key role in the fght for the capital.
121

a video posted in early february 2013 on youTube
shows Col. Aqidi, SMC member and part of the SMC
arms committee, sitting with an m79 rocket launcher
in his operations room in the Sheikh Saeed district
in the south of aleppo city.
122
Little more than a week
after the video was posted, rebels launched an ofensive
against a military barracks in the north of aleppo city
in which they brought a signifcant amount of frepower
down on the barracks, enabling their capture of the
building.
123
This ofensive, combined with other rebel
operations throughout the city, suggest that it is part of a
new, coordinated strategy to hit at regime positions and
weaken assads hold on the city.
This strategy reveals what the rebel commanders see
as the regimes center of gravity in the ongoing battle
for control of northern Syria and suggests that the
armed struggle is entering a critical new phase. The
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provide non-lethal aid to the SmC, including training
assistance, is a signifcant step in this direction. However,
whether such limited support will be enough to empower
the SmC remains to be seen.
The goal behind U.S. support to the opposition should
be to build a force on the ground that is committed
to building a nonsectarian, stable Syria and is likely
to respect american interests. Providing greater
support to the SmC does entail the risk of unintended
consequences. Some of this support may fow to the more
radical forces within the SmC. But the current policy
of inaction carries much more risk. This policy has not
prevented extremists from acquiring arms. Instead, it
has prevented more moderate forces from acquiring
arms and consolidating their authority while allowing
the extremist forces to develop their own independent
sources of support that are less easily monitored.
The conditions needed to bring about the Syrian regimes
demise are slowly being met, including the apparent
coalescence of the oppositions disparate political and
military entities, along with their latest advances on
the ground in aleppo and Damascus. russian Deputy
foreign minister mikhail Bogdanov recently announced
that the assad regime may fall, while Syrian Vice
President Farouq al-Sharaa commented that the Syrian
army cannot defeat rebel forces. momentum is shifting
in favor of the opposition.
128

Syrias state security apparatus will fall apart as the assad
regime fnishes its transformation into a militia-like
entity.
129
The Supreme military Command is currently
the only organization that could serve to fll the
security vacuum left by this transformation. if properly
supported, the SmC could establish a monopoly of force
in Syria and potentially serve as the next Syrian army.
Empowering a unifed and accountable leadership for
the opposition, led politically by SOC President moaz
al-Khatib and militarily by SMC Chief of Staf Gen.
Salim idriss, is not only important from a command
and control perspective. This structure, if developed
properly, can create a framework for rebuilding Syrias
security and governing institutions in order to fll the
power vacuum left by assads fall and help to aid in a
secure and stable Syria. To quote Gen. Salim Idriss,
The building of the new Syrian state has already begun,
and the fSa battalions of today must be transformed
into the post-assad military of tomorrow.
130

and (6) tactical communications.
125
Gen. idriss and
other rebel commanders believe that creating an elite
commando force could help check Syrias drift toward
being a failed state through the creation of a professional
force that is able to self-police and ensure rule of law. So
far, there has been no response to Gen. Idriss request.
however, opposition sources say that negotiations are
underway for the training, if not equipping, of a special
task force in Turkey.
126
The non-lethal support promised to the SmC is a long
way from the type of material aid rebel commanders need
to create a professional armed opposition that will help
reduce the risks of sectarian strife, revenge attacks, and a
protracted civil war after the fall of assad. as pointed out
by Paul mutter on Syria Comment, the $60 million in aid
promised to rebels is equal to a mere one weeks worth of
US direct military aid to israel and sixteen days worth of
direct military aid to egypt.
127
Providing greater support
to the organization is necessary because the SmC will
likely live or die on its ability to provide for rebel-held
communities. Creating a strong military institution will be
crucial to Syrias democratic transition, and the Supreme
Military Command is the frst step in ensuring that the
countrys army is a professional, nonsectarian force that
submits to civilian governance and the rule of law.
cOnclUsIOn
in order to accomplish its goals the SmC will need
greater international support, whether in the form of
greater fnancing or provision of weapons. As the armed
opposition advances, it will be responsible for providing
services in liberated areas and distributing relief aid.
This will strain the rebels limited resources and cause
tension with local populations, if they are not adequately
equipped to participate in the process of rebuilding the
state. Ultimately, the SmCs ability to serve as a viable
leadership body will rest on its ability to provide for
rebel communities.
The SmC presents both a challenge and an opportunity
for the U.S. as policymakers struggle to ensure a level
of American infuence within the confnes of the
administrations noncommittal policy, working with the
SmC could enhance the U.S. position vis--vis Syrias
armed opposition and provide a mechanism of stability
should the assad regime fall. however, fears of islamists
and a preference for counterterrorism solutions pose
signifcant obstacles to greater cooperation with the
SmC. The recent announcement that the U.S. will
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APPEndIx 1: wHOs wHOsElEcTEd sUPREmE mIlITARy cOmmAnd mEmBERs
MAJOR GENERAL
SALIM IDRISS
Maj. Gen. Salim Idriss is the Chief of Staff for the
Supreme Military Council. He previously served on the
General Command for the Joint Command Council,
and played an important role within the organization
until its merger into the SMC in December 2013. He
has a reputation for his ability to access resources
and distribute them to rebel groups. He also has a
close relationship with Syrian National Coalition
Secretary-General Mustafa Sabbagh.
SELECTED SUPREME MILITARY COMMAND MEMBERS
MAJOR OMAR TIRAD
Bassam al-Dada is the spokesman for the Supreme
Military Council. Before serving on the Supreme
Military Council, al-Dada was the political advisor to
the Free Syrian Army. He is most known for accusing
Hezbollah of supporting the regime and threatening
to retaliate if the support continues.
BASSAM AL-DADA
FARAJ HAMMOUD
AL-FARAJ
LIEUTENANT COLONEL
MOHAMMAD AL-ABBOUD
Area of Operation: Eastern Front
Faraj Hammoud al-Faraj is originally from al-Raqqa
province and currently a resident of Saudi Arabia. He
is a member of the Syrian National Council, formally
listed as part of the Revolutionary Motion political
bloc. Faraj is widely known for his ability to procure
funding and supplies.
Area of Operation: Eastern Front
Lt. Col. Mohammad al-Abboud was the head of the
Deir ez-Zour Military Council under the Joint
Command Council. He is now serving as the Deputy
Chief of Staff for the Eastern Front.
Area of Operation: Eastern Front
Maj. Omar Tirad is the head of the Intelligence
department for the Eastern Front. He is the former
leader of the Bashar al-Kheir battalion in Abu Kamal.
His unit was instrumental in overrunning the air
defense base in Abu Kamal.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL
ADNAN MOHAMMAD
AL-KOKIB
Area of Operation: Eastern Front
Lt. Col. Adnan Mohammad al-Kokib was an
intelligence officer prior to his defection in late
February 2012. Since then, he has been providing
intelligence support to rebel commanders in the
eastern region. He also serves on the recently
established military court in the Eastern Front. He is a
member of the SMC financial committee.
Area of Operation: Northern Front
Sheikh Ahmed Issa is the leader of the powerful Suqour
al-Sham brigade in Idlib province, and the head of the Syrian
Liberation Front. He is one of the most influential rebel
commanders in Idlib province, and his brigade is known for
being disciplined, trained and well-resourced. Suqour al-Sham
is also known as one of the more Islamist brigades operating
in northern Syria. His brigade runs three field hospitals, a
Sharia court, and a prison. He is also a member of the SMC
financial committee.
SHEIKH AHMED ISSA
LIEUTENANT COLONEL
MUSTAFA IBRAHIM
Area of Operation: Eastern Front
Lt. Col. Mustafa Ibrahim is the head of the Free Syrian
Army Battalions in Hasaka. He has good ties to a
number of Kurdish militia units in Hasaka, and has
fought alongside these Kurdish units against Jabhat
Nusra battalions in the area. He is the head of the
Financial and Administrative Affairs department for
the Eastern Front.
JAMAL MAAROUF
Area of Operation: Northern Front
Jamal Maarouf, also known as Abu Khalid, is the
leader of the Syrian Martyrs Brigade, formerly known
as the Jabal al-Zawiya Martyrs Brigade, in Idlib
province. One of the two biggest strongmen in Idlib
province, he is known to pay his men a salary and
offer them comprehensive training, and he has set up
a prison and nascent court system in his village. He is
also a member of the SMC arms committee.
COLONEL
MUSTAFA ABDEL KARIM
Area of Operation: Northern Front
Col. Mustafa Abdel Karim is the Deputy Chief of Staff
for the Supreme Military Council. He is widely
recognized as the operational commander of the SMC
and oversees the five fronts, although with limited
command and control. He is also the leader of the
Dara al-Thawra brigade. Prior to the uprising, Abdel
Karim served as a colonel at the University Training
Administration.
COLONEL
ABDEL JABAR AL-AQIDI
Area of Operation: Northern Front
Col. Abdel Jabar al-Aqidi is the head of the Aleppo
Military Council, and former leader of the Amr bin
al-Aas brigade in Aleppo. He was also an important
member of the Joint Command Council and has
played a key role in attempts to unite the armed
opposition. Aqidi is associated with the secular and
moderate Free Syrian Army forces. He is also a
member of the SMC arms committee.
ABDEL QADIR SALEH
Area of Operation: Northern Front
Abdel Qadir Saleh, also known as Hajji Marea, is the Assistant
Deputy Chief of Staff for the Northern Front. He is the head of
the powerful Tawhid Brigade, the largest brigade operating in
Aleppo province. Prior to the uprising, Saleh was an
import-export trader. Some fellow rebel commanders suggest
that his background is one of the reasons why he is known for
being well-resourced and accounts for his ability to access
critical supply lines. Despite an open alignment with Jabhat
Nusra-associated battalions in Aleppo, Saleh promotes a
tolerant, pluralistic vision for Syria and has welcomed Christian
and Kurdish units into his brigade.
COLONEL
ABDEL BASSET AL-TAWIL
Area of Operation: Northern Front
Col. Abdel Basset al-Tawil is the Deputy Chief of Staff
for the northern front. Tawil is the head of the
Quthayif al-Haq brigade in Idlib province. He is
reportedly working with the Salafi-jiahdist brigade
Ahrar al-Sham, and is viewed with suspicion by some
of the more moderate rebel commanders for his
Salafist connections.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL
ABDEL RAZZAQ
AL-FAREEJI
Area of Operation: Northern Front
Ahmed Obaid is the head of the Martyr Amjad
al-Hameed Battalion, named in honor of the former
leader of the Khalid bin Walid Brigade in Rastan. He is
part of the influential network of rebel commanders
who were part of Khalid bin Walid brigades formative
period, and he has ties to the Farouq Battalions in
Homs and the Rastan Military Council. He is also the
former head of the Zaafaran Military Councils arms
committee.
AHMED OBAID
BRIGADIER GENERAL
ABDEL MAJID DABIS
HUTHAYFAH MUSTAFA
AL-SHUGHRI
Area of Operation: Western/Middle Front
Brig. Gen. Abdel Majid Dabis is the former head of the
General Command for the Joint Command Council.
He has been behind a number of attempts to unify
rebel forces. He is also the former leader of the Nasr
Brigade in Kafr Nabouda, although his unit remained
small and he was never in command of significant
ground forces.
Area of Operation: Middle/ Western Front
Huthayfah Mustafa al-Shughri is the head of Ahfad
Abu Bakr al-Sadiq Battalion in Baniyas. He has played
a significant role in operations throughout Syrias
coastal region, or Sahel, and has earned a prominent
place on the regimes terrorist list for his activities
against regime forces in Latakia province. He is also
a member of the SMCs arms committee.
Area of Operation: Western/Middle Front
Lt. Col. Abdel Razzaq al-Fareeji is the Hama field
commander for the Free Syrian Army. He is part of the
original Free Syrian Army leadership that took up
residence in Turkey, although he remained inside
Syria to help conduct operations in the Hama
province. He is the head of the Transitional Justice
department for the Western/Middle Front.
BRIGADIER GENERAL
ZIAD FAHD
Area of Operation: Southern Front
Brig. Gen. Ziad Fahd is the Deputy Chief of Staff for
the Southern Front. He is also the head of the
Damascus Military Council, and a former member of
the General Command of the Joint Command Council.
He is an influential commander in the southern region,
and he has attempted to bolster more moderate
forces in the south through outreach with Jordan.
Area of Operation: Southern Front
Lt. Col. Majid al-Sayid Ahmed is the head of Ghouta
Commandos Brigade. There are also multiple videos
posted on YouTube in which he claims to be the head
of the Military Council in Damascus. This has caused
some tension between him and Brig. Gen. Ziad Fahd.
He is the head of the Operations Department for the
Southern Front.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL
MAJID AL-SAYID AHMED
COLONEL
MOHAMMAD AUDO
Area of Operation: Western/Middle Front
Col. Mohammad Audo defected from the Interior
Ministry in July 2012, where he served as an
intelligence specialist. Since his defection, Audo has
been assisting in intelligence support and now serves
as the head of the Intelligence department for the
Western/Middle Front.
COLONEL KHALID
MOHAMMAD HOURANI
Area of Operation: Southern Front
Col. Khalid Mohammad Hourani is the official
spokesman for League for a Free Houran, a
civilian-led organization that coordinates anti-regime
activity in Houran. Hourani is a member of the SMC
arms committee.
AHMED ABDEL
RAHMAN AL-HAMAWI
Area of Operation: Homs Front
Ahmed Abdel Rahman al-Hamawi is the departmental
head for Financial and Administrative Affairs for the
Homs front. He is the head of the Suqour Homs
battalion, a sub-unit of the al-Kadih Homs Brigade
and a member of the Syrian Liberation Front.
COLONEL
ABDULLAH AL-RIFAAI
Area of Operation: Southern Front
Col. Abdullah al-Rifaai is the head of the Qalamoun
Military Council and has close ties to Brig. Gen. Ziad
Fahd of the Damascus Military Council. He is a
member of the SMC arms committee.
SHEIKH
ZAHRAN ALLOUSH
Area of Operation: Southern Front
Sheikh Zahran Alloush is the leader of the Islam
Brigade (Liwa al-Islam) operating in the vicinity of
Damascus. The Islam Brigade is one of the most
powerful rebel groups in Damascus. Under his
command, the Islam Brigade carried out the attack on
the Syrian governments national security
headquarters in Damascus on July 18, 2012 that killed
Defense Minister Daoud Rajha, Deputy Defense
Minister Asef Shawkat, and Assistant Vice President
Hassan Turkmani.
OSAMA SAYEH
AL-JOUNEDI
Area of Operation: Homs Front
Osama Sayeh al-Jounedi is the Assistant Deputy
Chief of Staff for the Homs Front. He is the head of
the Farouq Battalions in Homs, replacing Lt. Abdel
Razzaq Tlas after he left his leadership position
following allegations of sexual impropriety.
Al-Jounedi also sits on the leadership command for
the Syrian Liberation Front.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL
FATIH HASSUN
Area of Operation: Homs Front
Lt. Col. Fatih Hassun is the Deputy Chief of Staff for
the Northern Front. He was the head of the Homs
Military Council under the Joint Command Council,
and has close ties to the Farouq Battalion. He is also
connected to the Civilian Protection Committee,
funded by the Muslim Brotherhood.
COLONEL
QASSIM SUAD AL-DIN
Area of Operation: Homs Front
Col. Qassim Suad al-Din is the head of the Middle Zone Military
Council. He has also served as the spokesman for the joint
command of the Free Syrian Army, he was the leader of the
Homs Front within the Five Front Command, and he has close
ties to Higher Revolutionary Council General Mustafa Sheikh.
In the Homs area, he has competed with the Farouq Battalions
for influence and authority. He is a member of the SMC arms
committee.
MAJOR ABDEL
HALIM GHANOOM
Area of Operation: Homs Front
Maj. Abdel Halim Ghanoom is the leader of the Ahl
al-Athar Battalions in the Homs region, and has
served on the development committee for the Homs
Revolutionary Council. He is a member of the SMC
arms committee.
LIEUTENANT
OMAR SHAMSI
Area of Operation: Homs Front
Lt. Omar Shamsi was an important deputy to former
Farouq Battalions commander Lt. Abdel Razzaq Tlas,
and continues to serve as an important commander
for the Farouq Battalions. He was also an early
member of the Rastan Free Officers movement and a
member of the Khalid bin Walid Brigade before joining
the Farouq Battalions. He is the head of the
Intelligence department for the Homs Front.
CAPTAIN
ABDULLAH BAHBOUH
Area of Operation: Homs Front
Cpt. Abdullah Bahbouh defected from the Syrian 9th
Armored Brigade and joined his brother Ahmad
Bahbouh during the initial formation of Khalid bin
Walid Brigade. He later served on the Rastan Military
Council and has played a key role in operations in the
Rastan area. He is the head of the Operations
department for the Homs Front.
COLONEL ABDEL
RAHMAN SOESS
Area of Operation: Homs Front
Col. Abdel Rahman Soess is the head of the al-Haqq
Brigade in Homs, an associate of the Farouq
Battalions. He also serves on the command for the
Syrian Liberation Front.
WWW.UNDERSTANDINGWAR.ORG
BRIGADIER GENERAL
ABDEL RAHMAN HUSSEIN
Area of Operation: Northern Front
Brig. Gen. Abdel Rahman Hussein is the department
head for the office of transitional justice in the
northern front. He is the former head of the Military
Council for eastern Aleppo, and works closely with
Col Abdel Jabar al-Aqidi from the Aleppo Military
Council. He has attempted to maintain close relations
to the Kurdish population in Aleppo and has been at
the forefront of negotiations with armed Kurdish units
in the province.
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MAJOR GENERAL
SALIM IDRISS
Maj. Gen. Salim Idriss is the Chief of Staff for the
Supreme Military Council. He previously served on the
General Command for the Joint Command Council,
and played an important role within the organization
until its merger into the SMC in December 2013. He
has a reputation for his ability to access resources
and distribute them to rebel groups. He also has a
close relationship with Syrian National Coalition
Secretary-General Mustafa Sabbagh.
SELECTED SUPREME MILITARY COMMAND MEMBERS
MAJOR OMAR TIRAD
Bassam al-Dada is the spokesman for the Supreme
Military Council. Before serving on the Supreme
Military Council, al-Dada was the political advisor to
the Free Syrian Army. He is most known for accusing
Hezbollah of supporting the regime and threatening
to retaliate if the support continues.
BASSAM AL-DADA
FARAJ HAMMOUD
AL-FARAJ
LIEUTENANT COLONEL
MOHAMMAD AL-ABBOUD
Area of Operation: Eastern Front
Faraj Hammoud al-Faraj is originally from al-Raqqa
province and currently a resident of Saudi Arabia. He
is a member of the Syrian National Council, formally
listed as part of the Revolutionary Motion political
bloc. Faraj is widely known for his ability to procure
funding and supplies.
Area of Operation: Eastern Front
Lt. Col. Mohammad al-Abboud was the head of the
Deir ez-Zour Military Council under the Joint
Command Council. He is now serving as the Deputy
Chief of Staff for the Eastern Front.
Area of Operation: Eastern Front
Maj. Omar Tirad is the head of the Intelligence
department for the Eastern Front. He is the former
leader of the Bashar al-Kheir battalion in Abu Kamal.
His unit was instrumental in overrunning the air
defense base in Abu Kamal.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL
ADNAN MOHAMMAD
AL-KOKIB
Area of Operation: Eastern Front
Lt. Col. Adnan Mohammad al-Kokib was an
intelligence officer prior to his defection in late
February 2012. Since then, he has been providing
intelligence support to rebel commanders in the
eastern region. He also serves on the recently
established military court in the Eastern Front. He is a
member of the SMC financial committee.
Area of Operation: Northern Front
Sheikh Ahmed Issa is the leader of the powerful Suqour
al-Sham brigade in Idlib province, and the head of the Syrian
Liberation Front. He is one of the most influential rebel
commanders in Idlib province, and his brigade is known for
being disciplined, trained and well-resourced. Suqour al-Sham
is also known as one of the more Islamist brigades operating
in northern Syria. His brigade runs three field hospitals, a
Sharia court, and a prison. He is also a member of the SMC
financial committee.
SHEIKH AHMED ISSA
LIEUTENANT COLONEL
MUSTAFA IBRAHIM
Area of Operation: Eastern Front
Lt. Col. Mustafa Ibrahim is the head of the Free Syrian
Army Battalions in Hasaka. He has good ties to a
number of Kurdish militia units in Hasaka, and has
fought alongside these Kurdish units against Jabhat
Nusra battalions in the area. He is the head of the
Financial and Administrative Affairs department for
the Eastern Front.
JAMAL MAAROUF
Area of Operation: Northern Front
Jamal Maarouf, also known as Abu Khalid, is the
leader of the Syrian Martyrs Brigade, formerly known
as the Jabal al-Zawiya Martyrs Brigade, in Idlib
province. One of the two biggest strongmen in Idlib
province, he is known to pay his men a salary and
offer them comprehensive training, and he has set up
a prison and nascent court system in his village. He is
also a member of the SMC arms committee.
COLONEL
MUSTAFA ABDEL KARIM
Area of Operation: Northern Front
Col. Mustafa Abdel Karim is the Deputy Chief of Staff
for the Supreme Military Council. He is widely
recognized as the operational commander of the SMC
and oversees the five fronts, although with limited
command and control. He is also the leader of the
Dara al-Thawra brigade. Prior to the uprising, Abdel
Karim served as a colonel at the University Training
Administration.
COLONEL
ABDEL JABAR AL-AQIDI
Area of Operation: Northern Front
Col. Abdel Jabar al-Aqidi is the head of the Aleppo
Military Council, and former leader of the Amr bin
al-Aas brigade in Aleppo. He was also an important
member of the Joint Command Council and has
played a key role in attempts to unite the armed
opposition. Aqidi is associated with the secular and
moderate Free Syrian Army forces. He is also a
member of the SMC arms committee.
ABDEL QADIR SALEH
Area of Operation: Northern Front
Abdel Qadir Saleh, also known as Hajji Marea, is the Assistant
Deputy Chief of Staff for the Northern Front. He is the head of
the powerful Tawhid Brigade, the largest brigade operating in
Aleppo province. Prior to the uprising, Saleh was an
import-export trader. Some fellow rebel commanders suggest
that his background is one of the reasons why he is known for
being well-resourced and accounts for his ability to access
critical supply lines. Despite an open alignment with Jabhat
Nusra-associated battalions in Aleppo, Saleh promotes a
tolerant, pluralistic vision for Syria and has welcomed Christian
and Kurdish units into his brigade.
COLONEL
ABDEL BASSET AL-TAWIL
Area of Operation: Northern Front
Col. Abdel Basset al-Tawil is the Deputy Chief of Staff
for the northern front. Tawil is the head of the
Quthayif al-Haq brigade in Idlib province. He is
reportedly working with the Salafi-jiahdist brigade
Ahrar al-Sham, and is viewed with suspicion by some
of the more moderate rebel commanders for his
Salafist connections.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL
ABDEL RAZZAQ
AL-FAREEJI
Area of Operation: Northern Front
Ahmed Obaid is the head of the Martyr Amjad
al-Hameed Battalion, named in honor of the former
leader of the Khalid bin Walid Brigade in Rastan. He is
part of the influential network of rebel commanders
who were part of Khalid bin Walid brigades formative
period, and he has ties to the Farouq Battalions in
Homs and the Rastan Military Council. He is also the
former head of the Zaafaran Military Councils arms
committee.
AHMED OBAID
BRIGADIER GENERAL
ABDEL MAJID DABIS
HUTHAYFAH MUSTAFA
AL-SHUGHRI
Area of Operation: Western/Middle Front
Brig. Gen. Abdel Majid Dabis is the former head of the
General Command for the Joint Command Council.
He has been behind a number of attempts to unify
rebel forces. He is also the former leader of the Nasr
Brigade in Kafr Nabouda, although his unit remained
small and he was never in command of significant
ground forces.
Area of Operation: Middle/ Western Front
Huthayfah Mustafa al-Shughri is the head of Ahfad
Abu Bakr al-Sadiq Battalion in Baniyas. He has played
a significant role in operations throughout Syrias
coastal region, or Sahel, and has earned a prominent
place on the regimes terrorist list for his activities
against regime forces in Latakia province. He is also
a member of the SMCs arms committee.
Area of Operation: Western/Middle Front
Lt. Col. Abdel Razzaq al-Fareeji is the Hama field
commander for the Free Syrian Army. He is part of the
original Free Syrian Army leadership that took up
residence in Turkey, although he remained inside
Syria to help conduct operations in the Hama
province. He is the head of the Transitional Justice
department for the Western/Middle Front.
BRIGADIER GENERAL
ZIAD FAHD
Area of Operation: Southern Front
Brig. Gen. Ziad Fahd is the Deputy Chief of Staff for
the Southern Front. He is also the head of the
Damascus Military Council, and a former member of
the General Command of the Joint Command Council.
He is an influential commander in the southern region,
and he has attempted to bolster more moderate
forces in the south through outreach with Jordan.
Area of Operation: Southern Front
Lt. Col. Majid al-Sayid Ahmed is the head of Ghouta
Commandos Brigade. There are also multiple videos
posted on YouTube in which he claims to be the head
of the Military Council in Damascus. This has caused
some tension between him and Brig. Gen. Ziad Fahd.
He is the head of the Operations Department for the
Southern Front.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL
MAJID AL-SAYID AHMED
COLONEL
MOHAMMAD AUDO
Area of Operation: Western/Middle Front
Col. Mohammad Audo defected from the Interior
Ministry in July 2012, where he served as an
intelligence specialist. Since his defection, Audo has
been assisting in intelligence support and now serves
as the head of the Intelligence department for the
Western/Middle Front.
COLONEL KHALID
MOHAMMAD HOURANI
Area of Operation: Southern Front
Col. Khalid Mohammad Hourani is the official
spokesman for League for a Free Houran, a
civilian-led organization that coordinates anti-regime
activity in Houran. Hourani is a member of the SMC
arms committee.
AHMED ABDEL
RAHMAN AL-HAMAWI
Area of Operation: Homs Front
Ahmed Abdel Rahman al-Hamawi is the departmental
head for Financial and Administrative Affairs for the
Homs front. He is the head of the Suqour Homs
battalion, a sub-unit of the al-Kadih Homs Brigade
and a member of the Syrian Liberation Front.
COLONEL
ABDULLAH AL-RIFAAI
Area of Operation: Southern Front
Col. Abdullah al-Rifaai is the head of the Qalamoun
Military Council and has close ties to Brig. Gen. Ziad
Fahd of the Damascus Military Council. He is a
member of the SMC arms committee.
SHEIKH
ZAHRAN ALLOUSH
Area of Operation: Southern Front
Sheikh Zahran Alloush is the leader of the Islam
Brigade (Liwa al-Islam) operating in the vicinity of
Damascus. The Islam Brigade is one of the most
powerful rebel groups in Damascus. Under his
command, the Islam Brigade carried out the attack on
the Syrian governments national security
headquarters in Damascus on July 18, 2012 that killed
Defense Minister Daoud Rajha, Deputy Defense
Minister Asef Shawkat, and Assistant Vice President
Hassan Turkmani.
OSAMA SAYEH
AL-JOUNEDI
Area of Operation: Homs Front
Osama Sayeh al-Jounedi is the Assistant Deputy
Chief of Staff for the Homs Front. He is the head of
the Farouq Battalions in Homs, replacing Lt. Abdel
Razzaq Tlas after he left his leadership position
following allegations of sexual impropriety.
Al-Jounedi also sits on the leadership command for
the Syrian Liberation Front.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL
FATIH HASSUN
Area of Operation: Homs Front
Lt. Col. Fatih Hassun is the Deputy Chief of Staff for
the Northern Front. He was the head of the Homs
Military Council under the Joint Command Council,
and has close ties to the Farouq Battalion. He is also
connected to the Civilian Protection Committee,
funded by the Muslim Brotherhood.
COLONEL
QASSIM SUAD AL-DIN
Area of Operation: Homs Front
Col. Qassim Suad al-Din is the head of the Middle Zone Military
Council. He has also served as the spokesman for the joint
command of the Free Syrian Army, he was the leader of the
Homs Front within the Five Front Command, and he has close
ties to Higher Revolutionary Council General Mustafa Sheikh.
In the Homs area, he has competed with the Farouq Battalions
for influence and authority. He is a member of the SMC arms
committee.
MAJOR ABDEL
HALIM GHANOOM
Area of Operation: Homs Front
Maj. Abdel Halim Ghanoom is the leader of the Ahl
al-Athar Battalions in the Homs region, and has
served on the development committee for the Homs
Revolutionary Council. He is a member of the SMC
arms committee.
LIEUTENANT
OMAR SHAMSI
Area of Operation: Homs Front
Lt. Omar Shamsi was an important deputy to former
Farouq Battalions commander Lt. Abdel Razzaq Tlas,
and continues to serve as an important commander
for the Farouq Battalions. He was also an early
member of the Rastan Free Officers movement and a
member of the Khalid bin Walid Brigade before joining
the Farouq Battalions. He is the head of the
Intelligence department for the Homs Front.
CAPTAIN
ABDULLAH BAHBOUH
Area of Operation: Homs Front
Cpt. Abdullah Bahbouh defected from the Syrian 9th
Armored Brigade and joined his brother Ahmad
Bahbouh during the initial formation of Khalid bin
Walid Brigade. He later served on the Rastan Military
Council and has played a key role in operations in the
Rastan area. He is the head of the Operations
department for the Homs Front.
COLONEL ABDEL
RAHMAN SOESS
Area of Operation: Homs Front
Col. Abdel Rahman Soess is the head of the al-Haqq
Brigade in Homs, an associate of the Farouq
Battalions. He also serves on the command for the
Syrian Liberation Front.
WWW.UNDERSTANDINGWAR.ORG
BRIGADIER GENERAL
ABDEL RAHMAN HUSSEIN
Area of Operation: Northern Front
Brig. Gen. Abdel Rahman Hussein is the department
head for the office of transitional justice in the
northern front. He is the former head of the Military
Council for eastern Aleppo, and works closely with
Col Abdel Jabar al-Aqidi from the Aleppo Military
Council. He has attempted to maintain close relations
to the Kurdish population in Aleppo and has been at
the forefront of negotiations with armed Kurdish units
in the province.
38 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
APPEndIx 2: OPPOsITIOn UnITs
aside from the military council system, two other major rebel coalitions pre-dated the Supreme military Command
(SmC). These coalitions encompass many of the independent brigades listed below. Since the creation of the SmC
in December 2012, the majority of Syrias insurgent groups have declared their support for the new command.
These groups include the military Council network, many independent brigades, most of the mainstream islamist
factions, and even some of the more pragmatic Salaf groups. For example, the Syrian Liberation Fronts (SLF)
leadership has been incorporated into the SmC and many SLf commanders serve as SmC members. This has
empowered the SmC, and allowed the command to draw legitimacy from their inclusion.
The Syrian islamist front (Sif) has been incorporated to a lesser degree. few of its leaders are actively involved
with the SmC, and Sif ranks have not been integrated into the new command. Cooperation does occur, however,
and the Sif has demonstrated a willingness to participate in joint operations with SmC units. Due to Sifs cross-
front presence, it is imperative for the SmC to work with their ranks strategically. To this end, SmC leadership
has been attempting to work more closely with Sif units and integrate them into its network of commanders and
rebel groups. Whether or not the SIF decides to fully align with the SMC will afect the commands ability to assert
authority and marginalize the more extremist elements of the opposition. if the Sif decides to align with more
moderate islamist factions, it will pose a serious challenge to Jabhat nusra, which has so far been able to wield more
infuence than its ranks would suggest.
TURKEY
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Northern Front
Central Front
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Tal Aybad
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39 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
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40 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
Shaheed ahmed Ouda Battalion (homs)
Shuhada Baba amr Battalion (homs)
mohammed ibn abdullah Battalion (homs)
Jund allah battalion (homs)
homs Brigade (homs)
Fursan al-Haq Battalion (Homs)
amr bin al-aas Brigade (Deir ez-zour)
al-iman Brigade (hama)
Qalat homs Battalion (homs)
Suqour al-Sham (Idlib, Hama province): Commanded
by Sheikh ahmed issa, leader of the SLf
Deir ez-zour revolutionary Council (Deir ez-zour
province)
Farouq Battalion (Homs)
Tawheed Brigade (aleppo)
Liwa islam (islam Brigade)
ansar al-islam (Damascus)
Suqour al-Kurd Brigade (Qamishli)
Suqour Homs Battalion (Homs)
mAjOR REBEl cOAlITIOns
Syri an Li berat i on Front
The Syrian Liberation front (SLf) was established in September 2012 as a coalition of
roughly 20 islamist groups. although the SLf is not incorporated directly into the free
Syrian army, due to the SLfs disdain for the fact that the fSas leadership is located
outside of the country, its leader Sheikh ahmed issa has expressed the SLfs desire to
maintain brotherly relations with the fSa. The SLf has responded positively to the
creation of the Supreme military Command (SmC) and a number of the leaders of their key units, namely
Ahmed Issa of Suqour al-Sham, Abdel Qadir Salah of Tawhid, and Osama al-Jinidi of Farouq, serve on
the SmC council.
Syri an Is l ami c Front
The Syrian islamic front (Sif) was formed on December 21, 2012, and is composed of
Islamist groups that conform to a fairly dogmatic Salafst ideology and espouse the creation
of a theocratic state ruled by a shura council. Despite these beliefs, the Sif has not called
for the establishment of an islamic Caliphate in Syria, but rather are Syrian nationalists.
The Sif leadership structure is not linked to the Supreme military Council (SmC) as
closely as the Syrian Liberation Front, but the leader of the al-Haqq Brigade is on the SMC
council and various sub-units of the Sif are connected to brigades and battalions associated
with members of the SMC. Ahrar al-Sham, while not ofcially linked to the SMC, had representatives
present at the antalya conference where the SmC was created, and they have cooperated with members of
the SmC on military operations.
ahrar al-Sham (country-wide)
harakat al-fajar al-islamiyya (aleppo province)
Liwa al-Haq (Homs province): Abdel Rahman Soess
al-iman Combat Brigades (Damascus province)
al-hamza bin abdul-mutallab Brigade (Damascus
province)
Suqour al-Islam (Damascus province)
Saraya al-maham al-Khassa (Damascus province)
musab bin ameer Brigade (aleppo province)
Jamaat al-Talia al-islamiya (idlib province)
ansar al-Sham Brigades (Latakia province)
Jeish al-Tawheed (Deir ez-zour province)
41 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
BRIgAdE-lEvEl REBEl ORgAnIzATIOns
These include all franchise brigades detailed in the report.
Khal i d bi n Wal i d Bri gade (Di s banded)
area of Operations: homs province
Commander: major abdul rahman Sheikh ali (Deceased)
as of march 2012, the Khalid bin Walid Brigade was the largest and most
efective rebel force operating in Syria with over 3,000 soldiers. After uniting
various rebel commanders operating around Homs, the unit fought its frst
major engagement at the end of September 2011 when it conducted a fghting retreat against security forces in the
town of Rastan. Since its formation, many of its commanders have since broken of in order to create the Farouq
Battalions and the rastan military Council. although the group has largely dispersed, many of todays important
feld commanders can be linked back to this brigade.
Farouq Bat t al i ons
area of Operations: homs, hama, aleppo, Damascus
Commander: Osama Sayeh al-Jinidi
The Farouq Battalion was established in Homs in 2011 and has since grown into one of the largest
militant organizations operating in Syria. although its center of gravity remains in homs, recent
ope r a t i ons have focused on Hama and Idlib provinces. The Farouq Battalions are a prominent member of the
Syrian Liberation Front, allied to the Free Syrian Army. Current and former members of the Farouq battalion,
as well as their afliates, hold leadership positions in numerous organizations across the country including the
Supreme military Command, the Syrian Liberation front, and the muslim Brotherhood-funded Civilian Protection
Committee. The Farouq Battalions are well trained, well funded, and adept at using social media to enhance their
reputation for efectiveness.
Farouq al -Shamal Bat t al i on
area of Operations: aleppo (Bab hawa, Tal abyad border crossings)
Commander: abu zeid
The Farouq al-Shamal Battalion is the northern branch of the Farouq Battalions operating in Homs and they share
leadership and resources. Farouq al-Shamal controls the Bab Haw and Tal Abyad border crossings with Turkey. In
September 2012, there was a dispute with a jihadist group over control of the Bab hawa border crossing and the
leaders of both groups were, resulting in tension between groups in the area.
Al -Haqq Bri gade
area of Operations: homs
Commander: Colonel abdel rahman Soess
Al-Haqqs commander, Col. Abdel Rahman Soess also sits on the leadership council for the Syrian
islamic front (Sif) and is a member of the Supreme military Command. The brigade was formed
in August 2012 through the merger of seven diferent battalions operating in the Homs area, and
42 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
in cooperation with the Farouq Battalions. Its ideological leader is Sheikh Abu Ratib, a Salafst cleric, who has
emphasized the importance of establishing an islamic state in Syria. Shortly after the brigades formation, tension
between the al-Haqq Brigade and the Farouq Battalions over operational priorities caused a rift between the two
groups. This led al-Haqq to branch of on its own and announce an alliance with Ansar al-Islam. However, there is
little evidence to support a close relationship between the two groups. The al-Haqq Brigade and Farouq Battalions
have since reconciled and there is overlap in leadership structures and operations.
Shuhada Suri ya Bri gade- Syri an Mart yrs Bri gade
area of Operations: Jabal al-zawiya, idlib province
Commander: Jamal maarouf
The Syrian martyrs Brigade was formerly known as the Jabal al-zawiya Brigade, a collection of
a dozen battalions with hundreds of fghters. Although not ofcially part of the Idlib Military
Council, the Syrian martyrs Brigade has cooperated with the military Council extensively and has
coordinated attacks with a number of other groups in the region. The head of the Syrian martyrs Brigade, Jamal
maarouf, is a member of the Supreme military Command arms Committee.
Faj r al -Is l am Bat t al i on
area of Operations: maarat al-numan, idlib province
Commander: Lieutenant ibrahim ali
fajr al-islam was formed in late april 2012 under the leadership of Lieutenant ibrahim ali. fajr al-
islam has participated in military operations with other battalions in the area, including the martyrs
Battalion and the March 15th Battalion. It is a component of the al-Ansar brigade, which is afliated
with the Idlib Military Council, and its leadership works closely with Idlib Military Council head Aff Suleiman.
They are not connected to harakat fajr al-islamiyya in aleppo.
Suqour al -Sham
area of Operations: idlib province, Jabal al-zawiya
Commander: Sheikh ahmed issa
Suqour al-Sham is one of the largest and most powerful brigades operating in Idlib province.
The brigade is also a prominent member of the Syrian Liberation front (SLf), and Sheikh
ahmed issa is the leader of both Suqour al-Sham and the SLF. He is also an important member of the Supreme
military Command. The brigade works with a wide range of other militant organizations, including groups such
as Fajr al-Islam. Suqour al-Sham not only is a well-organized militant organization, but also runs three hospitals,
a Sharia court, and a prison in idlib province.
Dara al -Thawra Bri gade The Revol ut i on Shi el d Bri gade
area of Operations: northern idlib province
Commander: Colonel mustafa abdel Karim
The leader of the Dara al-Thawra Brigade, Col. mustafa abdel Karim, holds a prominent position
in the Supreme Military Command (SMC) as the Deputy Chief of Staf, and is widely considered
to be the operational commander of the SmC. The Dara al-Thawra Brigade has worked with the
43 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
Tawhid Brigade and ahrar al-Sham in the past, and is considered to have roughly 1,000 members.
Tawhi d Bri gade
area of Operations: aleppo province
Commander: abdel Qadir Saleh (aKa: hajji marea)
The Tawhid brigade is a prominent member of the Syrian Liberation front and its leader, abdel
Qadir Saleh, is a member of the Supreme military Command. The Tawhid brigade is the largest
militant group in aleppo province and incorporates secular, Christian, Kurdish, and jihadist
units. They were party to the november 18, 2012 statement that denounced Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC)
leadership and expressed support for the establishment of an islamist state in aleppo. however, they later amended
their statement, reshooting the video with Colonel Abdel Jabar Aqidi who is the head of the Aleppo Military Council
and a supporter of SOC.
Harakat Faj r al -Is l ami yya- The Is l ami c Dawn Movement
area of Operations: aleppo city and province
Commander: abu abdullah al-hamawi
Harakat al-Fajr al-Islamiyya is a Salafst brigade and member of the Syrian
islamic front (Sif). it was part of a gathering of 14 rebel groups that
released a video on november 18, 2012 that denounced the authority of the Syrian Opposition Coalition and
expressed support for the establishment of a just islamic state in aleppo. in late January 2013, harakat al-fajr
al-islamiyya announced the formation of harakat ahrar al-Sham al-islamiyya along with two other battalions, the
islamic Vanguard Group and the faithful fighters Battalions, under the leadership of ahrar al-Sham.
Ahrar al -Sham
area of Operations: aleppo Province, idlib province
Commander(s): abu abdel rahman al-Suri, abu abdullah al-hamawi, political leader abu
ayman
ahrar al-Sham is a coalition of dozens of smaller battalions and brigades that operate in the
northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib. Ahrar al-Sham is a Salafst brigade and is the leading member of the Syrian
islamic front (Sif). however, ahrar al-Sham is also associated with the idlib military Council and the free Syrian
Army. Because of its fexibility, Ahrar al-Sham has participated in military operations with secular, Islamist, and
jihadist organizations, such as when it took part in the capture of the Jarrah airfeld, Aleppo province on February
12, 2013 and the capture of Taftanaz airbase, aleppo province in January 2013. ahrar al-Sham also took part in the
november 18, 2012 statement that denounced SOC leadership and expressed support for the establishment of an
islamist state in aleppo; they later claimed not to have backed the statement.
Umma Bri gade
area of Operations: maarat al-numaan, idlib province
Commander: abdel mehdi al-harati
The Umma Brigade is known for its assimilation of foreign fghters into the organization, primarily
in a training capacity, according to the groups Libyan-irish leader mehdi al-harati. Because of this
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miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
foreign infuence, combined with Haratis preference for an Islamic government to be implemented after Assad,
the brigade gained the stigma of being radical Islamists or jihadists an accusation denied by members of the
group. The Umma Brigade was estimated to have over 3,000 Syrian fghters as of September 2012, and contains
specialists in communications, logistics, humanitarian issues, and heavy weapons. The Umma Brigade took part in
the november 18, 2012 statement that denounced SOC leadership and expressed support for the establishment of
an islamist state in aleppo, although they later amended their statement claiming they only supported the call for a
just state that included all religious and ethnic groups in Syria.
Li wa al -Is l am- Is l am Bri gade
area of Operations: Damascus
Commander: Sheikh zahran alloush
Liwa al-Islam, a component brigade of Ansar al-Islam, operates chiefy in the Damascus
neighborhoods of Douma and eastern Ghouta. They claimed responsibility for carrying out the
July 18, 2012 bombings in Damascus that killed Defense minister Daoud rajha, Deputy Defense
minister asef Shawkat, and assistant Vice President hassan Turkmani. Liwa al-islam is a driving force behind
actions in Damascus, and is part of the current multilateral efort, codenamed Operation Epic in the Capital of the
Omayyads, to gain ground and prepare for later sustained eforts against regime forces in the city. Liwa al-Islam is
known to cooperate with Jabhat nusra and conduct joint operations.
Ans ar al -Is l am
area of Operations: Damascus
Commander: abu moaz al-agha
ansar al-islam is a member of the Syrian Liberation front (SLf), a coalition of about 20 islamist
rebel groups that include Suqour al-Sham, Farouq Battalion, and the Tawhid Brigade. Ansar al-
Islam is comprised of several battalions and brigades, including the efective Liwa al-Islam, and
is currently working with the rebel groups participating in the Operation epic in the Capital of
the Omayyads.
Al -Furqan Bri gades
area of Operation: Damascus
Commander: mohammad majid al-Khatib
The al-Furqan Brigades are concentrated in Damascus, with smaller branches operating in
Quneitra. The Brigades subunits include Abu Bakr al-Sadiq Brigade, the Umar Ibn Khattab
Brigade, the Otham Ibn Afan Brigade, and the Ali ibn Abi Talib Brigade. The al-Furqan Brigades
are loosely associated with Ansar al-Islam. They are not connected to the al-Furqan battalion operating in Deir ez-
zour.
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miDDLe eaST SeCUriTy rePOrT 9 | The free Syrian army | eLizaBeTh OBaGy | marCh 2013
Ahf ad al -Ras ul Bri gade
area of Operations: Damascus
Commander: ziad haj Obaid
The ahfad al-rasul Brigade is a component of ansar al-islam, a member of the Syrian Liberation
front. it claimed to have at least 400 soldiers in September 2012 and is composed of several
b a t t a l i o n s , most notably Al-Haqq battalion, Shuhada al-Jolan Battalion, and Suqour al-Jolan Battalion. In
early September it announced the formation of the Suqour Jabal al-Zawiya battalion, giving it a presence in Idlib.
Ahfad al-Rasul took part in the September 2, 2012 bombing that targeted the Syrian Army General Staf building
in Damascus. its leader, ziad haj Obaid, is on the arms Committee for the Supreme military Command.
Dei r ez-Zour Revol ut i onary Counci l
area of Operations: Dier ez-zour
Commander: Lieutenant Colonel mohammad al-abboud
The Deir al-zour revolutionary Council is a member of the Syrian Liberation front (SLC), and
its head Lt. Col. mohammad al-abboud is the operational commander for the eastern front of
the Supreme Military Command. The group has played a prominent role in the fghting in Deir
ez-Zour, and has spearheaded many operations including the capture of Mayadeen army base and the Iraqi-Syrian
border crossing near Abu Kamal. They openly cooperate with the Salaf-jihadist group Jabhat Nusra and the Deir
ez-Zour-based Furqan Brigade.
Jabhat Nus ra - Al -Nus ra Front , Vi ct ory Front
Area of Operations: Country wide- Damascus, Aleppo, Deir ez-Zour, al-Raqqa
Commander: abu muhammad al-Jolani
Since January 2012, Jabhat nusra has claimed responsibility for over 600 attacks across the
country-including over 40 suicide attacks. Jabhat Nusra is the most prominent Salaf-jihadist
organization in Syria and is associated with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Due to the overlap in leadership structures
between aQi and Jabhat nusra, the organization was designated a foreign Terrorist Organization by the United
States on December 10, 2012 as an alias for aQi. The group is well organized, well funded, and capable of executing
large scale, multilateral operations such as the capture of Taftanaz airbase, Aleppo province, Furat Dam, al-Raqqa
province, and Operation epic in the Capital of the Omayyads in Damascus. While Jabhat nusra has worked with
members of the Supreme military Command in the past, it has also clashed with units from the Tawhid Brigade
and with Kurdish groups in northern Syria. Jabhat nusra also took part in the november 18, 2012 statement that
denounced SOC leadership and expressed support for the establishment of an islamist state in aleppo.
nOTeS
46 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
1. Neil MacFarquhar and Hwaida Saad, Rebel groups in Syria make
framework for military, New York Times, December 7, 2012.
2. US announces expanded battlefeld aid to Syrian rebels, but
not arms, Washington Post, february 28, 2012; Syria rebels to get
direct non-lethal support from US for frst time, Secretary Kerry
announces, CBS News, february 28, 2013.
3. mapping Syrias armed opposition, Executive Magazine Online,
January 2013.
4. Charles Levinson, Leadership rifts hobble Syrian rebels, Wall
Street Journal, September 10, 2012.
5. Liam Stack, In slap at Syria, Turkey shelters anti-Assad fghters,
New York Times, October 27, 2011.
6. Daniel DePetris, Can fSa leadership be relevant again in
Syria? CNN, October 10, 2012.
7. Ivan Watson and Omar al-Muqdad, Syrian rebel leadership is
split, CNN, february 6, 2012.
8. Saad abedine, military defectors unite under free Syrian
army, CNN, march 25, 2012.
9. Joseph holliday, Syrias maturing insurgency, middle east
Security report 5, institute for the Study of War, June 2012.
10. rania abouzeid, Opening the weapons tap: Syrias rebels await
fresh and free ammo, TIME, June 22, 2012.
11. eric Schmitt, Cia said to aid in steering arms to Syrian
opposition, New York Times, June 21, 2012; Secret Turkish nerve
center leads aid to Syria rebels, reuters, July 27, 2012.
12. formation of the Joint Command for the revolutions military
Council, youTube, September 29, 2012. Translated from arabic,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibahDleBVGg.
13. formation of the Joint Command for the revolutions military
Council, youTube, September 29, 2012. Translated from arabic,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibahDleBVGg.
14. Interview with Col. Abdel Jabbar al-Aqidi in Bab Salama on
november 6, 2012; interview with Syrian rebels conducted via
Skype between november and December 2012.
15. Statement from the Joint Command on its vision for Syria,
October 3, 2012, posted on a facebook page for the Joint Command.
Translated from arabic.
16. Clashes break out between armed groups in Syria, Al-Safr,
October 12, 2012. Translated from arabic.
17. Interview with Col. Abdel Jabbar al-Aqidi in Bab Salama on
november 6, 2012.
18. The charm of telesalafsm, The Economist, October 20, 2012.
19. The charm of telesalafsm, The Economist, October 20, 2012;
Joshua Landis, Sheikh arour becomes icon of the revolutionary
military councils, Syria Comment, October 7
,
2012.
20. rania abouzeid, Syrias Secular and islamist rebels: Who are
the Saudis and Qataris arming? TIME, September 18, 2012.
21. This information was gathered from a series of interviews with
rebel commanders and rebel groups inside Syria conducted between
November 4 11, 2012.
22. This information was gathered from a series of interviews with
rebel commanders and rebel groups inside Syria conducted between
November 4 11, 2012.
23. interview with Syrian rebels in Latakia province on november
8, 2012.
24. interviews with SmC members conducted between January 30
February 4, 2013.
25. rania abouzeid, Syrias Secular and islamist rebels: Who are
the Saudis and Qataris arming? TIME, September 18, 2012.
26. Interview with Col. Abdel Jabbar al-Aqidi in Bab Salama,
Turkey on november 6, 2012.
27. The Syrian national initiative, Carnegie middle east Center,
november 1, 2012.
28. Syria opposition groups hold crucial Qatar meeting, BBC,
november 4, 2012.
29. Information about this meeting was gathered during feld
research conducted in Turkey and Syria between November 2 12,
2012.
30. Interview with Col. Abdel Jabbar al-Aqidi in Bab Salama on
November 6, 2012. Confrmed in subsequent interviews with other
rebel commanders during the period of November 6 12, 2012.
31. Syrian revolutionary battalions united within fve fronts, Al
Arabiya, november 5, 2012. Translated from arabic.
32. Video statement released on al arabiya news, Syrian
revolutionary battalions united within fve fronts, Al Arabiya,
november 5, 2012. Translated from arabic; free Syrian army
unites Syrian revolutionaries in fve fronts, Sharq al-Awsat, november
6, 2012, translated from arabic.
33. Louai Miqdadi publishes picture with Okab Sakr along the
Syrian-Turkish border, Middle East Panorama, October 16, 2012.
Translated from arabic.
34. Joint higher military Council in fronts, youTube, posted on
november 5, 2012. Translated from arabic, http://www.youtube.
com/watch?v=nDi0p1r9Og4.
35. interviews with Syrian rebels conducted in Syria between
November 8 11, 2012 and conducted via Skype between November
15 21, 2012.
36. interviews with Syrian rebels conducted via Skype between
November 15 21, 2012.
37. interview with Syrian rebel commander from idlib conducted
via Skype on november 19, 2012.
38. Colonel Qassim Suad al-Din is the middle zone military
Council head and can also be seen in the video of mustafa Sheikh
announcing the five front Command.
nOTeS
47 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
39. Text of the Doha agreement around the creation of a Syrian
opposition gathering, national Coalition for Syrian revolutionary
and Opposition Forces, November 8 11, 2012. Translated from
arabic, http://www.etilaf.org/about/documents/doha.html.
40. Neil MacFarquhar and Hwaida Saad, Rebel groups in Syria
make framework for military, New York Times, December 7, 2012.
41. Syrian rebels elect Islamist-dominated unifed command,
reuters, December 7, 2012.
42. Neil MacFarquhar and Hwaida Saad, Rebel groups in Syria
make framework for military, New York Times, December 7, 2012.
43. Statement on the formation of the Supreme military Council
Command of Syria, Carnegie middle east Center, December 15,
2012.
44. Complete List of names of the new military and Civilian
Command for the free Syrian army, Syria News, December 12,
2012. Translated from arabic.
45. Joseph holliday, Syrias maturing insurgency, middle east
Security report 5, institute for the Study of War, June 2012.
46. Joseph holliday, Syrias maturing insurgency, middle east
Security report 5, institute for the Study of War, June 2012.
47. This information was obtained through interviews with SmC
members and is based on feld research conducted between January
30 February 4, 2013.
48. interviews with SmC members conducted between January 30
February 4, 2013.
49. Colum Lynch and Babak Dehghanpisheh, Syrian rebels release
Un peacekeepers, Washington Post, march 9, 2013.
50. asher Berman, The yarmouk martyrs Brigade and the capture
of the Un troops, Syria Survey blog, march 6, 2013; for the statement
see the yarmouk martyrs Brigade facebook page at http://www.
facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=619044418111137&set=a.5539926
54616314.146599.553720751310171&type=1.
51. interview with Syrian rebel commanders conducted via Skype
on march 11, 2013.
52. Gathering of the fajr al-islam Battalion: theoretical training
courses on arms, youTube, posted on february 12, 2013, http://
www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzybyvTmB_m.
53. Gathering of the fajr al-islam Battalion: theoretical training
courses on arms, youTube, posted on february 12, 2013, http://www.
youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gzybyvTmB_m
54. rania abouzeid, Ground War: Syrias rebels prepare to take a
province from assad, TIME, february 7, 2013.
55. interview with SmC commander conducted via Skype on
february 10, 2012.
56. Syria rebels claim northern airbase takeover, Al-Jazeera,
february 15, 2013.
57. interview with rebel commander from the Tawhid Brigade on
february 1, 2013.
58. foreign smuggled weapons spread northwards into Syria,
Brown Moses Blog, february 12, 2013.
59. rebels capture air base in northern Syria, AP, february 12,
2012.
60. interviews with SmC members conducted between January 30
February 4, 2013.
61. Central operations room directs every battle inside, Okaz News,
January 7, 2013. Translated from arabic.
62. Andrew Tabler, Jefrey White, and Aaron Zelin, Fallout from
the fall of Taftanaz, Policy Watch 2015, The Washington institute
for near east Policy, January 14, 2013.
63. Central operations room directs every battle inside, Okaz News,
January 7, 2013. Translated from arabic; Clarissa Ward, highlights
from the interview with Syrian rebel leader moaz al-Khatib, CBS
News, December 11, 2012; Syrian Opposition forms Political
Coalition, Joint military Council following foreign Pressure,
MEMRI, January 14, 2013.
64. US announces expanded battlefeld aid to Syrian rebels, but
not arms, Washington Post, february 28, 2012.
65. For Mustafa Sabbaghs profle on the Syrian National Council
see http://www.syriancouncil.org/en/members/item/300-mustafa-
sabbagh.html; information about Sabbaghs connections to the
muslim Brotherhood and his role as a distributor was discovered
through extensive interviews with Syrian rebels conducted between
September 2012 and February 2013 and during feld research
conducted from January 30 February 5, 2013.
66. rania el Gamal and andrew hammond, mistrust of Syrias
muslim Brotherhood lingers, reuters, november 12, 2012.
67. CJ Chivers, fresh from Syria, rebel commanders unite in
frustration, New York Times, July 13, 2012.
68. interviews with SmC members conducted between January 30
February 4, 2013.
69. Central operations room directs every battle inside, Okaz News,
January 7, 2013. Translated from arabic.
70. Andrew Tabler, Jefrey White, and Aaron Zelin, Fallout from
the fall of Taftanaz, Policy Watch 2015, The Washington institute
for near east Policy, January 14, 2013; afP, rebels overrun largest
military base in north Syria: nGO, Al Arabiya, January 13, 2013; ned
Parker and nabih Bulos, Syrian rebels say theyve seized strategic
Taftanaz air base, LA Times, January 11, 2013.
71. The article fallout from the fall of Taftanaz states that the SmC
had no role in the capture of Taftanaz. however it does list the SmC
afliated Farouq battalions as having participated in the operations.
idriss also publicly discussed his role in the operations in Central
operations room directs every battle inside, Okaz news, January 7,
2013, and confrmed his role and the participation of SMC sub-
units during a private interview conducted on february 3, 2013.
nOTeS
48 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
72. Syrian Observatory for human rights, https://www.facebook.
com/syriaohr, february 6, 2013; Syrian Observatory for human
rights, https://www.facebook.com/syriaohr, february 11, 2013;
Syrian Observatory for human rights, https://www.facebook.com/
syriaohr, february 13, 2013; zeina Karam, Syrian rebels Close in
On aleppo airport, associated Press, february 13, 2013.
73. rania abouzeid, Ground War: Syrias rebels Prepare to Take a
Province from assad, TIME, february 7, 2013.
74. Barbara Surk, Syrian rebels Capture Countrys Largest Dam,
ABC News, february 11, 2013.
75. abigail fielding and Javier Blas, Syrian rebels over-run several
oilfelds, Financial Times, December 7, 2012.
76. Ruth Sherlock, Syrian Rebels Capture Key Oilfelds, The
Telegraph, november 22, 2012.
77. Syrian Observatory for human rights, https://www.facebook.
com/syriaohr, february 10, 2013.
78. elizabeth OBagy and Joseph holliday, The Opposition Takeover in
al-Raqqa, Institute for the Study of War, March 15, 2013, http://www.
understandingwar.org/backgrounder/opposition-takeover-al-raqqa.
79. Ruth Sherlock, Syrian rebels cut of Bashar al-Assads escape
route, The Telegraph, December 17, 2012.
80. Ruth Sherlock, Syrian rebels cut of Bashar al-Assads escape
route, The Telegraph, December 17, 2012.
81. Karen Leigh, The Battle for Latakia Part 1, Syria Deeply, January
21, 2013.
82. Mariam Karouny and Erika Solomon, Syrian rebels fght for
strategic town in hama province, reuters, December 20, 2012.
83. foreign smuggled weapons spread northwards into Syria,
Brown Moses Blog, february 2, 2012.
84. Al Arabiya with Agencies, Syrian opposition fghters down regime
planes, jihadists advance: nGO, Al Arabiya, february 14, 2013; Syrian
troops defend rebels attack, Irish Examiner, January 19, 2013.
85. Al Arabiya with Agencies, Syrian opposition fghters down
regime planes, jihadists advance: nGO, Al Arabiya, february 14,
2013; Syrian troops defend rebels attack, Irish Examiner, January
19, 2013; Barbary Surk, Syrian forces escalate ofensive in Homs,
NBC News, January 2013
86. Oliver holmes, massacre of over 100 reported in Syrias
homs, reuters, January 17, 2013; Khaled yacoub Oweis, Syrian
militias target civilians in homs, opposition says, reuters, January
26, 2013.
87. Khaled yacoub Oweis, Syrian rebels pierce assads siege lines
in homs, reuters, march 10, 2013.
88. anne Bernard and C.J. Chivers, rebels Claim They Seized
air Bases in Syria, New York Times, november 25, 2012; Khaled
yacoub Oweis, Syrian rebels take airbase in slow progress towards
Damascus, reuters, november 25, 2012.
89. Joseph holliday and michael Lynch, The Battle for Damascus:
The Current State of Play in Syria, institute for the Study of War,
December 7, 2012.
90. Gili Cohen, Syrian army reinforces troops on outskirts of
Damascus, fres rockets at capital, Haaretz, December 7, 2012;
Syrian Observatory for human rights, https://www.facebook.com/
syriaohr, January 6, 2013; amman, assads forces push to retake
Damascus suburb, reuters, December 31, 2012.
91. associated Press, Syrian Troops, rebels Clash Over Damascus
highway, NPR, february 9, 2013.
92. hassan hassan, @hhassan140, Twitter, https://twitter.com/
hhassan140/status/299143096468373506, february 6, 2013;
alistair Dawber, rebel Groups launch operation to liberate
Damascus, The Independent, february 6, 2013.
93. associated Press, rebel push into Damascus raises fears of long
fght coupled by mass exodus, FOX News, february 8, 2013.
94. Salim idriss, Give us the weapons we need to beat assad,
Foreign Policy, march 1, 2013.
95. issue Brief: Civilian Protection in Syria, Center for Civilians in
Confict, December 2012.
96. Charles Levinson, enclave gives Syrian rebels governance,
Wall Street Journal, august 9, 2012.
97. Charles Levinson, enclave gives Syrian rebels governance,
Wall Street Journal, august 9, 2012.
98. David Sanger, Rebel arms fow is said to beneft Jihadists in
Syria, New York Times, October 14, 2012.
99. interviews with SmC members conducted between January 30
February 4, 2013.
100. founding announcement of the creation of the Syrian
Liberation front, youTube, September 21, 2012, http://www.
youtube.com/watch?v=r0i6rsPLwQa.
101. Syrian Liberation front Statement on relationship with the
free Syrian army in Turkey, posted on the Syrian Liberation front
website, September 26, 2012, http://syrialiberationfront.com/ar.
102. noah Bonsey, Liberation front represents mainstream
national militant alliance, Syria Comment, february 11, 2013.
103. noah Bonsey, Liberation front represents mainstream
national militant alliance, Syria Comment, february 11, 2013.
Confrmed by interviews with Syrian rebels conducted via Skype
from November 2012 February 2013.
104. announcement of the Syrian islamist front,
youTube, December 21, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=Bde8CVLnrcw.
105. aaron zelin, The Syrian islamic front: a new extremist
force, Policy Watch 2031, The Washington institute for near east
Policy, february 4, 2013.
106. The relationship between ahrar al-Sham and the SmC was
noted in interviews with four SmC representatives conducted via
Skype between December 20, 2012 January 2013.
nOTeS
49 www.UndERsTAndIngwAR.ORg
107. aaron zelin, The Syrian islamic front: a new extremist
force, Policy Watch 2031, The Washington institute for near east
Policy, february 4, 2013.
108. Confict between Jabhat Nusra and Taqhid Brigade in
aleppo, Russia Today, february 6, 2012. Translated from arabic.
These reports were confrmed during feld research conducted
between January 30 February 5, 2012.
109. al-Qaeda advises the Syrian revolution: Shumukh al-
islams Comprehensive Strategy for Syria, Cole Bunzel, Jihadica,
february 25, 2013.
110. al-Qaeda advises the Syrian revolution: Shumukh al-islams
Comprehensive Strategy for Syria, Cole Bunzel, Jihadica,
february 25, 2013.
111. Interviews with Syrian rebels conducted between January 30
february 4, 2013.
112. Interview with Col. Abdel Jabbar al-Aqidi in Bab Salama on
November 6, 2012. Confrmed in subsequent interviews with other
rebel commanders during the period of November 6 12, 2012.
113. Interview with Col. Abdel Jabbar al-Aqidi in Bab Salama on
november 6, 2012.
114. Syria rebels to get direct non-lethal support from US for frst
time, Secretary Kerry announces, CBS News february 28, 2013.
115. interviews with SmC members conducted between January 30
February 4, 2013.
116. interview with SmC member conducted on february 2, 2012.
117. interviews with SmC members conducted between January 30
February 4, 2013.
118. Neil MacFarquhar and Hwaida Saad, Rebel groups in Syria
make framework for military, New York Times, December 7, 2012.
119. Syria Live Coverage: fighting escalates near Damascus, EA
WorldView, february 11, 2012.
120. foreign smuggled weapons spread northwards into Syria,
Brown Moses Blog, february 2, 2013.
121. Syria analysis: Someone is arming the insurgents and its
working, EA WorldView, february 6, 2013.
122. Al-Aqidi Operations Room for the Sheikh Saeed Front in
aleppo, youTube, february 1, 2013, http://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=KdJq7-cNx0Q.
123. Operation against regime barracks in aleppo,
youTube, february 5, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=tC_8CySVmQ.
124. foreign smuggled weapons spread northwards into Syria,
Brown Moses Blog, February 2, 2013. Confrmed by interviews with
rebel commanders conducted via Skype on February 13 14, 2012.
125. David ignatius, What path now for Syria? Washington Post,
february 12, 2012.
126. Comments made by an opposition representative in
Washington, DC on february 13, 2012.
127. news round Up (1 march 2013), Syria Comment, march 1, 2013.
128. Volker Perthes, Looking Past assad, New York Times, January
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